Boone County IT department receives digital government award

Friday, October 9, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Technology is rapidly evolving, and county government had better keep up.

That was the message Cathilea Robinett of the Center for Digital Government brought to Boone County officials on Tuesday.

Robinett, the center's executive vice president, travels to city, county and state governments to assess their Web presence and to educate them on their use of technology. She was in town on Tuesday to present Boone County's Information Technology Department with a 2009 Best of the Web and Digital Government Achievement Award.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogging were all part of the discussion during Robinett’s PowerPoint presentation. From the first slide, which depicted the percentage of people who use the Internet, Robinett showed how prevalent technology is today.

“This shows that the digital majority is here … It’s real important to know that life has changed,” she said.

Robinett cited the inauguration of President Barack Obama as an example. For the first time in history she said, more people watched it on online than on broadcast stations.

There are many tech-savvy individuals, she said, and technology is moving toward mobile phones.

She used the example of Starbucks being a “third place” where people gather outside of home or work. Technology, she said, runs parallel to that idea. First there was a television, then there was a computer screen, and now there are mobile phones that have created the “third screen.”

“No matter what, folks have cell phones,” she said.

Robinett emphasized the importance of employing technology in innovative ways. She used an anecdote of a small group that wanted to clean up the online schedule of Caltrain, a state bus service in California. The group released its own site, which was cleaner and easier to follow; now California is interested in adopting it.

“If you don’t liberate the information, it’s going to be boring and stodgy and someone else is going to do it,” she said.

Although Robinett said she couldn’t praise the state’s use of technology — “(they) need a lot of help, and they know it,” she said — she applauded Boone County’s “sophisticated” efforts and said the county is further ahead than most.

The Best of 2009 award recognizes Boone County’s Web site, which she said is simple, citizen friendly and very useful. Although the face of the Web site could use some work, she said, the amount of information available runs deep.

Robinett said about 40 of the 300 government entities that applied for the award will receive it.

“The county is very, very impressive,” she said.

About 15 people attended the lecture. County Clerk Wendy Noren talked about the difficulty she has reaching what Robinett called the “millennial generation,” which comprises those born between 1985 and 2000.

“This whole world of filling out a card has got to go away,” Noren said.

County Collector Pat Lensmeyer also noted the generational and technological gaps between generations.

“We’re making it hard for them to be taxpayers … We need to be thinking differently,” Lensmeyer said.

The Center for Digital Government is a national research and advisory institute based in Folsom, Calif., that focuses on the best technological practices and policies in state and local governments.

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