's New Look's New Look

Monday, November 1st, 2010 - 7:23
Monday, November 1, 2010 - 06:55
The newly improved website provides citizens, data users, recipients and the press a variety of new ways to examine where and how stimulus dollars are spent.

Last week unveiled a number of improvements to the website, designed to provide “more transparency and easier accessibility,” as Recovery Board Chairman Earl Devaney said in a new welcoming video.

We browsed around a bit, using the Chairman’s video as a guide. Here were the new features that stood out:

  • A “Lights-On” map (photo at left), designed by advisory board member Edward Tufte, gives viewers a sense of the progression of stimulus awards from the Recovery Act’s passage in February 2009 to the end of September, 2010. Bright white dots, representing projects, appear on the map at the appropriate moment, while a line graph at the bottom shows the passage of time
  • There’s a new map gallery, which makes all of the Recovery Board’s extremely useful maps easily accessible in one place. Many of the maps were on the website before, but they were easily missed.  The interactive technology works very well on our computer, with the user’s choices loading quickly. For people who haven’t played with these maps before, they are quite informative. On the recipient reported awards map, for example, you can break projects  down in multiple ways, narrowing your view to one state or viewing the whole bundle of them. The map gives you the ability to check out individual agencies and different kinds of awards (contracts, grants or loans), seeing which projects have been completed, which are in progress and which still haven’t started.  Other maps include a state by state rundown of recipients who haven't complied with reporting requirements and an overlay that matches job training grants against state unemployment rates.
  • A moving bar of photos at the top of the page, called a “new feature story carousel” by Devaney, gives links to topics – like a chart that shows where innovation/technology dollars have gone ($30 billion to renewable energy, for example, $6 billion to advanced vehicles and biofuels, etc. ) The moving photos make us a little dizzy, but both of us are probably more prone  to motion sickness than the average guy. We like the fact that the “features” aren’t all selling the benefits of the Recovery Act. At the moment, one box highlights an Inspector General report that’s identified areas of concern in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s contracting and hiring processes. There are also features that are simply informational (100% of broadband funds awarded) and those that tout Recovery Act benefits (“Road Improvements in Bellevue, Washington”)
  • There’s a new “audience segmentation” feature. That means you can choose to interact with the site in different ways – as an “interested citizen” for example, a “data user”, a stimulus recipient or a member of the press. These options are available under a “Looking For” tab at the top left of the page.  The way you identify yourself creates a kind of information filter. New job search features  are prominently displayed for citizens (like links to state job websites) while  data users are directed to data widgets and the “download center”.
  • The Recovery Board has also added a new blog that is supposed to be a forum for “thoughts, comments and suggestions.” So far, there’s just an introductory post.