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The Get Help Florida site was created by the Pasco County Public Library Cooperative with funds from a Library Services and Technology Act grant. The site is intended to be a statewide portal to valuable E-government resources for those in need of help. With many government resources increasingly available online, it can be difficult for users in need of aid to find the help they need. The Get Help Florida site organizes hundreds of resources by category, enabling users to quickly and easily locate agencies that can assist them, no matter what their need.
Learn more about the philosophy behind the site design and content by selecting one of the three hyperlinks below:
The Pasco County Library Cooperative was awarded a Library Services Technology Act (LSTA) grant to create a statewide E-government web portal for Florida.
We believe the question, "What is E-government?" is best answered by the end user and should be defined by their needs. For some users, E-government means completing online government forms, for others, E-government will be a resource for fostering civic engagement and practicing open government policies.
Will this site answer every E-government question and have all the resources to meet every need?
Will we continually assess the citizens' needs and add or change content to meet those needs?
Pasco County was awarded the LSTA grant due to a number of factors, including our experience developing E-government services, policies and technologies. We took some of our best practices and applied them to site.
One of the keys to successful web design is identifying your core audience. Based on our experiences providing E-government services to citizens, we believe that those who need the most help are often the least technically capable of finding the correct services. In order to perform an effective search on the Internet, one needs to know terms/phrases that produce relevant results. We strongly believe that E-government services should be available to all regardless of their ability to effectively search the Internet.
Categorization provides a number of challenges to getting the best results for the non-expert user. We used Google Analytics, as well as E-government statistics gathered by librarians, to prioritize and categorize the information on this E-government web portal. An example of a challenge to categorization would be when users seeking information about "food" might search using the category "Nutrition" or "Food" whereas novice users might select the category "Child' or "Family" because that is who needs the food. We have food resources listed in all four of these categories. It is redundant but not without reason; not all users search for topics in the same manner. Our search terms are rated by criteria such as relevancy, popularity, and necessity. As an example for the criteria of necessity, food bank information is listed ahead of food stamp information since food banks often provide food immediately.
When using a search engine, a more sophisticated users might search the terms "nutrition", "WIC" (Women Infants and Children food programs) or "TANF" (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), novice users might look for terms like "food help", Under the category of "food", we list resources such as food banks, food stamps, WIC, and summer food services. These terms are rated by criteria such as relevancy, popularity, and necessity.
Below is a description of each page on this site and how our experiences shaped its development, with a final section dedicated to the site overall.
Home Page - This page provides an introduction to the site. Included are hyperlinks to resources and a brief explanation of the page. This gives users an overview of what is on the web portal.
Help - There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of websites, web pages, and resources to assist people. Deciding which resources to include and how to organize them proved to be a challenge. From our previous E-government work, we found that users need simple terms and simple navigation to find information. Often novice users expect quick answers and do not know or want to follow a series of links to find needed information.
Shelters - Shelters is an alphabetical listing of current homeless shelters in Florida, listed by city. In most cases the shelters accept men, women and/or children. Check with the individual shelters for their terms and conditions. Phone numbers are listed where available. Due to the nature of some shelters (abused women, etc) the phone number and/or address may be omitted.
Food - This section is broken down into two categories: Meals and Pantries. Meals lists social services, churches, and local organizations and groups that provide hot meals. We have tried, as much as possible, to avoid putting food banks here because it is extensively covered in other areas. This category is a way to find hot food immediately. Pantries lists social services, churches, and local organizations and groups that provide food or food vouchers.
Income Eligibility - Many agencies determine eligibility based on household income. A vast majority of agencies determine eligibility based on a percentage of the federal poverty guidelines. Yet these agencies often do not include these guidelines on their websites. We found that even advanced users have difficulties associating the search terms "income eligibility" or "income limits" with the search terms, "federal poverty guideline".
Get Answers - Similar to the "Help by Topic" page, the Get Answers Page is categorized using simple terms and navigation. Experience has taught us that a list of questions and associated answers provide the user the quickest access to the services they need.
Contact Us - This is a standard email form page for novice and experienced users to provide feedback to us about the page design and content and to ask general questions.
Search - The search engine on this page searches the resources listed on this site. It does not search the site itself. We have determined that novice users need to be directed to the information, not to another site that the user will need to navigate.
About Us - This site provides background information on the development of this web portal, as well as technical resources to assist others in developing their own websites.
Overall Site - After identifying our core audience, our design decisions are based on developing a site that is easy to use for this targeted group. This site is not built for experienced users. The core audience consists of users who do not have the navigation skills to find or access E-government resources easily. Many in the targeted group do not know or care whether a resource is found on a federal, state, or non-profit agency website. These users simply need help, answers, or resources.
The menus are single layer and include short descriptions. Drop-down menus or a second layer of links complicate navigation. This target audience is best served by seeking assistance from a person, so the "Ask a Librarian" chat service will be available on each page.
Every page on this site was developed with the resolution of 1024 pixels by 768 pixels and no page requires horizontal scrolling.
The category names were selected based upon keyword results from Google Analytics results from Pasco County Library's other web pages, as well as terms the general public uses.
Given the short attention span of most users, regardless of Internet searching experience, the path to each resource is direct while still providing as many resources as possible. Even the most advanced users have difficulty finding resources that are buried under too many hyperlinks.
Cross-Referencing - Putting resources where patrons will expect them. Example: It's logical for users to expect food stamps and WIC information to be located in the food category. However, they may also search for it in the child or family categories. Most users search by relevancy.
Taking the User to the Resource, not the Location in Which the Resource is Located - Giving users the exact resource they need (when possible!). Example: If a user wants to renew their driver's license online, find out the income eligibility requirements for KidCare, or make an appointment with an immigration office near them, does it make sense to take them the main page(s) of the Florida DMV site, KidCare site, or the U.S. Immigration, where they have to navigate through those sites again to find the exact resource after having already navigated this site? For advanced users, this is expected; for non-expert users, this may mean the difference between getting or not getting the resource at all.
Popularity/Relevancy/Necessity - Listing resources by relevancy, popularity, and/or necessity. Example: When users look for food assistance or sources, the most likely response is food stamps or WIC resources. Practical experience with these resources reveals that both take time for either program to begin. We decide to list food bank locations ahead of both.
Managing the User Experience - Building the site to meet user expectations, keeping it simple and short. All descriptions of resources have been shortened so users can quickly assess what is needed.
Open Sourcing - Every file, font, image, and template used to create this page is available, unless protected by copyright. In this section, we posted all resources for downloading/use. The purpose of this is to give other institutions the ability to use these resources as they see fit.