What Web page do Boston taxpayers visit the most?
You might be surprised to learn that Boston’s online property assessment tool, Assessing Online, is the most popular webpage, averaging 3,000 visits each day.
This tool provides a valuable service to Bostonians — by typing in an address, residents and other users can access property-specific information, including:
assessed values, and
However, the tool is still part of the city’s old website — the City’s Digital Team launched a successful, human-centered redesign of Boston.gov last year. Now they are working to redesign and migrate all citizen-facing applications to become part of the new and improved website.
That is where we come in.
Our team of five Harvard students is excited to partner with Lauren Lockwood, the City of Boston’s chief digital officer, and Product Manager Reilly Zlab to tackle this challenge. Our project is part of a class taught by Adjunct Professor Nick Sinai, a former U.S. deputy chief technology officer. Our team members:
Osama Arif, the team’s computer scientist and “tech-wizard,” has already jumped into Boston.gov’s analytics data. Osama is currently a junior at Harvard College studying economics and computer science. He has experience in management consulting, quantitative research, and data analytics.
Elle Creel brings experience working in management consulting. She’s led projects that push the boundaries of what organizations can do. She’s also designed pilots to test new business strategies. Elle has worked in the federal government, and will bring experience in “bureaucracy hacking.”
Doug Lavey comes from a technology consulting background, with his experience with change management in the public-sector. Fittingly, he has decided to continue studying technology and public service as a dual-degree student.
Marta Milkowska has developed public sector innovation programs in healthcare, finance, and energy in more than 15 countries. She is the team’s human-centered design expert. Marta will guide the development of our user research and prototype testing.
Emily Terwelp brings a perspective focused on data and social services to the project. Before starting at the Kennedy School, she worked in public policy research in New York City. Her focus was on programs for disadvantaged youth.
Assessing Online: Current Status
The current version of the Assessing Online tool lets users access information from the City’s Assessing database in two ways:
through a page that lists details about a given property, and
through a mapped version of the data, called the Boston Tax Parcel Viewer.
The list-style page has many data points about each property. This includes the value of the building and land, tax rates, lot size, and exemption statuses. The Parcel Viewer allows users to click between properties and see snapshots of parcel data.
We know Assessing Online is popular. What we don’t have is a complete picture of how people are using this information.
City experts think current and future homeowners drive most of the traffic. They assume these users want to understand property values for tax reasons. Users might also want to learn about their neighbors. But, developers and real estate agents represent another potential group with different needs. They might be more focused on finding property owners, or learning about building features.
The Digital Team is also thinking about how Assessing Online could connect to other address-based information since other city services are linked to a person’s home. These include trash collection, voting locations, and police precincts.
The Digital Team’s mission is to “deliver digital services that are welcoming, useful, and designed around the needs of the Boston community.” We’re excited to add to their effort and offer our input through this project. We’ll also be thinking of creative solutions to help make address-based information more accessible to the public.
First, we’ll refine our focus to one or two specific user groups. Through interviews and observations, we hope to understand how people use address-based information like the data included in Assessing Online. These insights will help us:
engage in usability testing, and
iterate as we learn more about our target populations.
We can’t wait to start having conversations with users — please stay tuned. We’ll keep you updated with blog posts as we continue our work with the City of Boston. You can also follow our progress on Marta’s twitter @MartaMilkowska. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to learn more or have thoughts on how we can make our project better.
Osama Arif, Elle Creel, Doug Lavey, Marta Milkowska, Emily Terwelp