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State of the Web at HUD

February 2001

The Strategy

Want to hear a HUD success story? Take a look at what the Department is doing with the web.

HUD's five web products - the award-winning internet and intranet sites, the public access kiosks and answer machines, and the Web Clinics for HUD Partners - continue to represent the best of HUD. We're working hard to take advantage of all the opportunities the web affords to serve citizens, to serve HUD's partners, and to serve HUD's employees.

What is the key to HUD's success in using the web? It's easy, really. We know the audience. We know who they are; we know what they want; we know how to talk to them; and - most important - we listen to what they say.

We know that our public products have to focus on citizens - on explaining to them how to buy homes and find affordable housing and how to make their communities better places to live. We know our partners - we know the information and online systems they need to accomplish their objectives. And we know that we have to make our intranet serve HUD's employees by giving them information and tools that they need to do their jobs and be successful.

Further, we have a comprehensive strategy for delivering information and services via the web that doesn't end with the web products themselves:

  • Marketing: We go out and talk to the audiences to find out what we're doing right and what we're doing wrong, through focus groups and marketing efforts. Then we use that information to make the web products better.
  • Outreach: We work with our partners - nonprofits, state and local governments, public housing agencies, faith-based groups, lenders, real estate brokers, and other HUD partners - to help them create web sites that deliver the services HUD funds and supports, which we can incorporate into our "web" of information.
  • Management consulting: We work with HUD managers, making sure that HUD's web products help them achieve their objectives and mandates and helping them think about new ways to serve citizens through the web.
  • Staff training: We work with HUD staff, educating them about HUD's web products so they know how to use them and how to tell others about them.

Everyone at HUD can be proud of these accomplishments because everyone at HUD contributes to their achievement. It's one effort in which the barriers of organizational "cylinders" truly have broken down; and it shows just how far we can go, when we work together as one Department.

The Present

  • HUD's Homes and Communities Web Site: Some 630,000 people visit HUD's web site every month. 15% stop by more than once a month. Conservatively, we estimate that 75% are private citizens; and the most requested information is how to buy a home. Printed in hard copy, the site exceeds one million pages. More than 50 business processes (many of them with numerous components) and databases are available through HUD's internet, helping both HUD partners and citizens accomplish their objectives.

    In July 2000, HUD's Homes and Communities Page was awarded the first E-Citizen Services Award, presented by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Andersen Consulting for a federal web site that is most innovative in using the web to serve citizens. In November, the Public Strategies Group called HUD's web site, "A pioneer among federal agencies in how to put useful information in the hands of customers and stakeholders;" and recently, USA Today featured HUD's web site both on its own web page and in its Sunday Access magazine, which is distributed all over the country.

    One feature that is receiving a lot of attention on HUD's site is the webcasts (live broadcasts and video via the web), which continue to draw raves from HUD partners and employees. Currently, 229 hours of broadcasts are available in our webcast video library: training sessions, conferences, best practices videos, and other information for citizens and our business partners. Presently, we can webcast to 100 people simultaneously; and - to our delight - there are times when demand exceeds supply.

  • HUD's Intranet: Virtually every employee uses HUDweb every day to find out what's going on in the Department, to get information and services about their jobs, and to access online systems they need to do their work. On a monthly basis, HUDweb averages about 550,000 visits. For two years in a row (1997 and 1998), HUD's intranet was named one of the top 50 intranets in the country, by CIO Magazine.

  • HUD Answer Machines: HUD Answer Machines - computers located in each of HUD's 81 field offices and in Headquarters - provide access to HUD's web site for anyone who needs it. An average of 1,300 citizens use the Answer Machines each month. To our knowledge, HUD is the only federal agency making the internet available to the public in every one of its offices. The Answer Machines are just one of the ways HUD is helping bridge the digital divide.

  • HUD Kiosks: 91 HUD kiosks are available in shopping malls, grocery stores, libraries, and other public places across the country. Many offer the content in both English and Spanish. Kiosks provide basic housing information to 25,000 citizens each month. Interviews with kiosk users reveal that more than 50% expect to use the information they found. This year, HUD Kiosks were a semi-finalist for Harvard's 2000 Innovation In American Government Awards. In the past, the kiosks were honored by the E-Gov Consortium with the "Pioneer Award" and by the Center for Excellence in Information Technology (CEIT) with their "2000 Award." Just this month, the Kiosks were awarded one of the first Excellence.Gov Awards, by the Council for Excellence in Government.

  • Web Clinics for HUD Partners: 26 Web Clinics have reached more than 850 participants, representing some 600 organizations across the country. These clinics arm our partners with content management tips, a step-by-step process for writing their web sites, and loads of information about how they can get all the technical support they need, for free. The new Web Clinic Wizard software, developed as a companion to the Clinics and distributed to participants for free, enables partner organizations to create simple web sites in minutes.

Are we making a difference? Are HUD's web products helping HUD inform citizens, provide services, and improve work processes? We think so. Here are just a few of the stories and comments:

  • A young woman in central Florida was facing the prospect of being homeless when she encountered the HUD Kiosk in her local library. Finding that HUD had information that could help her stay off the streets, she walked inside to use one of the library's computers and sent her plea for help. The local field office invited her to come to the office (which she found by using the information she'd printed out at the kiosk) and provided her the information she needed to find a place to live.

  • "I attended the Web Clinic you presented in St. Petersburg, Florida a couple weeks ago. I was very impressed and appreciate the training. As a result of your session I have already registered a domain name for my housing authority and have plans to go online within the next couple of months. Thanks for the encouragement!" - Brian Harris, Executive Director, Martin Tennessee Housing Authority

  • "Thank you so much for reformatting your web site! I so appreciate the user-friendly tools and links you are now offering. I edit the Real Estate section for a medium-sized weekly newspaper in San Luis Obispo County (CA). I often need information for use in articles that I feel may be useful to our readers, particularly having to do with FHA loans. Your web site improvements will surely help me to do my job more efficiently and, for that, I am grateful. As a consumer (with an FHA mortgage) I am relieved to know that information I might need concerning our home is now easier to find and much more readable." - Melissa Chavez

  • A HUD employee tells of meeting a woman - a single mother - who was so proud to have just bought her first home. Curious, he asked her how she did it. She replied that the very first thing she did was go to the HUD home page and print out all the information about how to buy a home.

  • A HUD Community Builder in Florida met with the Director of Sarasota's Education Assistance Program and showed her our Kids Next Door web site. The Director was so excited about Kids Next Door that she started using it to teach citizenship to children in her program. When the children finish their homework and/or tutoring, she offers them Kids Next Door as their "bonus!"

  • A new resident of HUD-assisted apartments in Kentucky identified his new home from pictures and descriptions on HUD's web site. From his home in Arizona, he found the photo, contacted the property manager, and made arrangements to move in, without having to make a house-hunting trip at all.

The Future

Developing web sites seems to follow a natural progression. First, you do the most obvious - you use them like a newspaper, to provide information. We're doing that. Then, you start to use them to do your work. You redesign and automate your work processes and make them available through the web. You get more interactive. That's happening at HUD, too. The next step - the one that we'll focus on this year - presents both challenges and opportunities: using the web to discuss, convene, and involve.

One of the beauties of the web is that it permits people to connect without the limitations of geography and time. The web offers a non-threatening place to ask questions, voice opinions, and participate in discussions. It offers a place where "communities" of people with common interests and concerns can form, to learn and work together. And the more we can help citizens connect with other citizens, partners connect with other partners, employees connect with other employees, and each of these audiences connect with one another, the greater the potential for innovative ideas and creative solutions to problems.

So we have 3 objectives this year:

1. Use the web to connect people with people

  • Wouldn't it be great if citizens could come to the HUD web site, click on "talk to a housing counselor," and have an immediate online one-on-one discussion with a HUD housing counselor?

  • Wouldn't it be great if community groups could come to the HUD web site, click on "talk to a technical assistance provider," and get answers to their questions right then, right there, day, night and weekends?

  • This year, we're working on developing real-time chat technology to facilitate these kinds of communications. By year's end, we hope to have at least one pilot effort underway.

2. Use the web to connect people with their government

One of the most exciting - and, as yet, untapped - capabilities of the web is to involve citizens in their government�to help create government of the people and by the people - not just for the people. We're talking about giving citizens opportunities to influence what happens in the government and to help citizens define the problems and shape the solutions, working right along with government employees.

  • Wouldn't it be great if we could publish a "TV guide" of online town meetings with citizens, in which they can both view and participate in discussions on public policy issues with HUD executives and other experts?

  • Wouldn't it be great if we could offer online meeting places, where both formal and ad hoc groups could come together to discuss common issues, share and maintain documents, conduct meetings, set goals, and monitor the progress of their efforts to improve their communities?

  • Wouldn't it be great if we offered regular opportunities for citizens to voice their views and ideas on current policy issues under discussion - before we get to the rule-making step?

During the next few months, we're going to develop the technical capabilities to create these kinds of options, and we're going to look for HUD managers who are ready to seize these opportunities to include citizens in the process of government.

3. Keep on doing what we're doing - only better

Finally, we want to retain the quality of our web products and efforts and improve our efficiency and effectiveness. To that end, we have a number of items on our list for the year:

  • New HUD web site: On January 21, we debuted a new, better organized Homes and Communities Page. It underscores our commitment to focus on citizens by incorporating a new section called "At Your Service," designed to direct citizens to some of the most requested and most used online services. It also incorporates new technology, which will permit us to manage our resources more effectively.

  • New intranet site: Next, we'll be rolling out a new version of our intranet, called hud@work. This new intranet will allow employees to customize what they see on the intranet web page. Employees will be able to choose from a menu of items, selecting the information and tools they need for their own jobs. Then, each time they visit hud@work, the front page they see will be the one they designed.

    In addition, managers can use hud@work to send information to target audiences within the Department. So, for example, the Assistant Secretary for Housing can create a message just for Housing employees, or the Secretary's Representative for New York and New Jersey can create a message just for the employees working in those offices.

    Once hud@work is up and running, we hope to apply the capability to customize to our internet site. HUD's partners, in particular, could benefit from this option since they visit the site regularly.

  • Enhance/expand our customer services: As demand for the web grows, the need for customer support grows. To that end, we plan to hire full-time web managers in the 10 regions of the field and in key Headquarters offices, to assist the Web Team in their roles as writer/editors, entrepreneurs, advocates, and marketers. We're adding more Web Clinics to our schedule; and we're working on an online version of the clinics, so we can reach more HUD partners in less time. We're also working on a new staff training program, to make sure HUD staff know how to use our web products.

  • Complete our initial rollout of HUD kiosks and form new partnerships: We plan to roll out an additional 19 kiosks this year, bringing the total to 110 kiosks nationwide. The next step is to begin forming partnerships with state and local governments and with other federal agencies, to add content. We're particularly excited about an initial contact from America Online, seeking a partnership with HUD to do more kiosks. We also are convening an interagency Kiosk Working Group, to form partnerships with other federal agencies to share content and to develop a governmentwide approach to providing information and services for citizens via kiosks.

  • Federal web leadership: The HUD Web Team has organized a new working group of web content managers from across the federal government to share experiences, discuss problems, and identify best practices in content management. We're on the steering committee for FirstGov's interagency portal project, as hosts of the U.S. State and Local Government Gateway. We've also offered to lead a FirstGov effort to develop "homes.gov," a web site that could offer basic housing information and services from federal, state, and even local governments. This summer, HUD's Web Team has been invited to present a tutorial on "Best Practices in Web Content Management" for the annual E-Gov Conference in Washington DC.

We have a busy year ahead of us - so many opportunities to use the web to make a difference in the way government serves citizens! It is a success story in which everyone at HUD is playing a role and in which we all can be proud.

Content Archived: March 2, 2011

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