Going Digital with a WordPress Microsite
Editor’s Note: How do we leverage the dynamic web to better convey information to the public? What are some advantages and pitfalls of digitizing an administrative practice at a public agency? In this post, Alma Guzman shares with us the story of how she’s brought the Grants administrative process online. Transforming an administrative practice is a delicate process, especially in government. Alma reveals her thoughts and learnings while touching on the technical, conceptual, and social elements of her journey. Alma Guzman is a member of the Lab’s first cohort and as an Arts Associate of DCA’s Grants Division, she provides administrative support for arts organizations and individual artists seeking funding opportunities. — Wendy Hsu
Prototyping a new direction
DCA’s Grants Division has gone digital! Well, almost there. We took our first baby steps and are now excited to run free in the playground. With Lab at DCA guiding the way, and curiosity streaming out of my ears, I led the Grants team to take a leap of faith on streamlining how we engage with LA’s arts community.
Here’s a bit of background on DCA’s digital efforts. First, DCA’s Grants Administration Division is working on implementing a new grants online system to manage the 250+ applications received yearly from LA-based arts organizations and individual artists. This system will help streamline our application process and relieve applicants from having to submit paper copies of applications. Concurrently, DCA is also making the transition to a new website (DCA’s current website was designed over 12 years ago). Both online platforms will transform how we serve the public. They will also help us collect data in order to assess and improve programming so we can improve our arts and cultural ecosystem throughout the City of Los Angeles. Exciting times. Exciting projects. Both will launch within the next year…but what to do in the meantime?
During our Lab session on webmaking, a wave of inspiration swept over me and a light bulb started flickering in my head. I came up with an idea to build a grants microsite that organizes our grants program information into a series of web pages and shares the info in a dynamic and user-friendly way. This idea was new and risky. Both of these qualities don’t bode well within the confines of our bureaucratic work structure.
With the guidance from Lab, I used WordPress.com to quickly build a prototype website to host information related to the City of Los Angeles Fellowship Program. Wordpress afforded the interactive building blocks of webmaking, for instance, the navigation menu and page order, a visual language that I used to illustrate my ideas for a new and dynamic grants user experience. Also as open-source technology, WordPress comes with the knowledge of a wide community of designers and builders who have shared their lessons and best practices.
With this prototype, Grants staff and upper management saw the value of delivering grants information online. They happily joined me on the microsite bandwagon.
Streamlining for a better user experience
After prototyping, I worked with the rest of the Grants team to create our first microsite to release the guidelines for another one of DCA’s grants programs — Cultural Grant Program for Organizations. Prior to this microsite, we shared our guidelines and application documents in the form of a static 31-page PDF document. Heavy with dense text, this document often led to much confusion because many applicants don’t have the time or patience to read through all the pages.
Working closely with the Lab, I made a skeletal WordPress site to demonstrate the basic structure of this new microsite. I used UX standards as a language to communicate information. I made design decisions related to information architecture by prioritizing key information such as grant amounts, eligibility, timeline, while isolating actionable information pertaining to proposal preparation and submission instructions. Oh, wondering about eligibility? No need to locate that information on the third sentence of the fourth paragraph on page 13. Just click on the tab that says ELIGIBILITY! It was that easy. It should be that easy. The goal was: no more misconstruing important facts.
We also built an online form using Jotform, enabling applicants to upload and submit application documents. This was big. We integrated Google Drive with Jotform on the back end so submission results are automatically exported to a Google Sheet. Proposal documents are given a unique ID and neatly packaged into individual folders for safe keeping. This simple, life-changing function saves us many days of manual data entry.
Data-informed insights for future web improvement
In addition to enhancing the user experience for the public (and ahem, saving trees!), this interim solution helps inform our needs for the design and implementation of a third-party online grants system. This process sparked productive conversations among the grants team to imagine and plan for the workflow of an online system. We also installed a few handy plugins on the WordPress site to help us collect user data. From this data, we can derive insights such as whether users acquire information in the order we anticipate and how much time they spend viewing each page. Even simple analytics such as daily site visits can tell us much about areas of information users look for and the page journey they take to get to the desired information. This data will help us continue to improve how we deliver information to the public.
It’s been a great learning experience. There have been bumps along the way. But I have to say that while the fear of the technology monster disrupting our manicured workflow was real, taking the risk was worthwhile. Bringing the grant application system online is only the beginning of our digital efforts to streamline our process and increase funding access. DCA’s grants team is excited to continue exploring innovative practices that will inspire ideas and collaborations between staff and our constituents. The journey continues!
About the Author
Alma Guzman (@alma_almie) is a part of DCA’s Grants Division team and provides administrative support to arts organizations and individual artists seeking funding opportunities for artistic projects.