This story was written by Mai-Ling Garcia, Online Engagement Manager at the City of Oakland. Mai-Ling worked with the Code for America team to uncover the needs of largely anonymous city website visitors.

The Oakland community hella loves Oakland. Community members have a robust presence at council meetings, town halls, and community events. However, who often goes unnoticed are the more than an average of 2,800 virtual visitors who engage with our City every day. That’s more than 1,000,000 interactions a year.

That’s changed with the new Analytics Dashboard we launched. As the first government partner for Code for America’s website analytics dashboard, I’m excited to announce that the dashboard is now officially in nationwide beta (try it here). Anyone with a government website and a Google Analytics account can set up the dashboard in about five minutes and start tracking a small subset of metrics in real-time in order to better understand a City’s digital presence. You can get started right now with Code for America’s easy to use installer.

The analytic dashboard in City Hall is pure brilliance. It transcends politics and personal persuasion and allows us as City staff to make business decisions informed by data about our web content and service delivery.

— Kristine Shaff, Public Information Officer, City of Oakland’s Public Works Department

<p>The dashboard hanging in Oakland City Hall.</p>

The dashboard hanging in Oakland City Hall.

Finding a user-centered approach to web design

When Code for America put this together for us, we were looking for an easier way to understand the ongoing needs of Oakland residents — particularly for our new approach to civic web design.

Website visitors are real-life community members with needs that often go unnoticed in the digital landscape. The dashboard makes their needs visible and public by clearly displaying what phrases community members are searching for, the pages on the website they are visiting, those topics that are most popular and the volume of web traffic over the last 24 hours. It lives on the desktops of key web staff and is displayed on a screen in the lobby of City Hall where any citizen can stop by and see the current stats. Most importantly, we’ve used the alpha dashboard in Oakland for about six months now to give once invisible residents real-life presence to City staff.

The outgrowth of the dashboard has been a burgeoning community of City staff who collaborate while sharing successes and challenges in their efforts to disseminate information to the community. The Web Analytics Club or (WAC) is an informal working group, fueled by chocolate, and inspired by data to better communicate information on our City website. As a team, we’re beginning to not only improve our content but identify drivers, search terms, and core services that we should highlight as indicated by our virtual visitors.

The dashboard was a first step in researching key decision-making metrics with our staff and the public for our new civic web design.

Frances Berriman, who’s been working with us as part of the Digital Front Door  initiative, adapted a dashboard from her previous work on GOV.UK  to create the City of Oakland’s alpha dashboard. Within the first week of installation, we began to see people stop and spend a few minutes watching the search queries scroll up the screen. There’s a fascination with what real people are doing and looking for, and the dashboard offered a simple way for City employees to “listen” for a quick minute to the people on the other side of all those computers. It’s a great reality check on what we hear via email and social media channels.

With my partners from the Oakland Digital Front Door team, I’d like to invite you to take a new look at your website metrics and connect with the needs of the people who use your site.