How Cities Are Using OpenGov Stories for Coronavirus Communications

April 3, 2020 – Kelsey Price

Over the last few weeks, government leaders in cities and counties all across the country have been working overtime to make on-the-fly adjustments to departmental operations while communicating critical updates with residents for the treatment and prevention of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), as well as steps that they are taking to address the crisis locally. While governments have always been our most effective example of resilience and crisis management, this is new territory for everyone.

In an effort to support leaders who are waking up each day to new developments unfolding, we want to discuss two of OpenGov’s available tools—Stories and Open Town Hall (OTH)—and how they can help alleviate immediate communication concerns and also provide a means of gathering direct feedback to better gauge residents’ most pressing needs.

Customizable Components for Quick Communication

Every community’s communication needs are different, and during a public health crisis, or any emergency situation, it’s important for governments to have different options for disseminating key information to residents. With OpenGov, leaders can quickly pull in official data sources and interactive maps, embed videos and visuals and link local resources in one central location.

With multiple format options and intuitive features, you don’t need to be a coder to pull together an easy-to-navigate webpage that covers any of the following components.

  • Official Sources of Government Information for Import - With Coronavirus dominating headlines across all major media outlets, sometimes it’s best to stick to a limited set of verifiable sources for the “official” information you’re providing to residents. Stories allows you to import links and content from the top-cited sources for COVID-19, including:
  • Daily Updates - Clearly broadcast which information is newly added directly at the top of the webpage, and show how communications have progressed over the past week. With so much information being dispensed from many various news sources, citizens will appreciate the ability to clearly grasp updates without having to re-read announcements previously published.

  • FAQs - If your government team is receiving the same questions over and over again from residents, a great rule of thumb is to create an FAQ page outlining questions and answers to get ahead of the communications curve. It will save your staff time and energy, and residents will appreciate the proactive approach.
  • Local and County Resource Links - One of the best benefits of OpenGov Stories is the ability to centralize information. Instead of sending residents on a wild goose chase across the internet to find the specific resources they need, put information such as ordinances, road closures, and facilities operations all in one place.

  • Multilingual Offerings - To ensure information is accessible to your entire community, take advantage of features that allow for easy inclusion of multilingual resources for every resident.

  • Maps - Link residents to nearby healthcare facilities and clinics with user-friendly maps.

  • Videos - Embed multiple videos from official sources with clean formatting templates.

  • Infographics - Easily display helpful visualizations, such as the CDC’s steps to effective handwashing, created to educate the public on proper prevention hygiene.

  • Feedback - Wondering what questions your residents have regarding COVID-19? Get real-time feedback by embedding questions directly into your Story. Respondents can see transparent data about who else has responded, the number of visitors, and the total time spent on public commentary

Additional Page Elements

As you can see from the components above and our OpenGov example template, there are many variations available in terms of content, formatting, interactive elements, and languages supplied to residents. The list below highlights even more options available to communities to customize their Story with the most pertinent information for their specific leaders and residents.

  • Daily Bulletins and Letters from City Officials
  • Actionable Resources (ex. Renew a Professional License, Apply for a Relief Effort Supply Permit, File for Unemployment, Testing Eligibility)
  • Public Employee Guidelines (ex. Department-Specific Responses, Operational Adjustments)
  • Resident Guidelines (ex. What to do if you Suspect you are Sick, Preparation for Businesses)
  • Downloads (ex. Automated Issuance of a Doctor’s Note)
  • Social Media (ex. Relevant Tweets, Important Accounts to Follow)

When it comes to building your own Story, the turnaround time can be as quick as one day, especially since there’s no need to reinvent the communications wheel. Our team at OpenGov has created an example template your team can follow, which includes multiple, customizable components. If you’ve ever posted on social media, you’re already skilled enough to publish your own story.

Live Community Examples

Figuring out exactly what to post and how to format the information can be challenging in this unknown territory. That’s why we’ve gathered the real community examples of published Stories from our customers (most of which were created only just within the past two weeks). You can browse through published Stories from other communities to see which elements they’ve included and also gather ideas for your own page. Additionally, ELGL has a great open-source document for non-Story webpages here that can serve as further inspiration.

Half Moon Bay, CA
Unique Story Element: Multilingual Accessibility

Dallas County, TX
Unique Story Elements: Interactive Resident Poll to Gauge Public Feedback, Social Media Highlights

Sunset Valley, TX
Unique Story Element: Statewide COVID-19 Map

Redding, CA
Unique Story Element: Daily Bulletin

Need to Set Up Your Own COVID-19 Story?

At OpenGov our team is working hard to connect communities with the tools they need to effectively manage this active public health crisis. If you are a current customer, reach out to our team today for support. If you are not a current customer, and want to learn more, please contact us.

Beyond Stories—How to Quickly Figure Out What To Say and How Often

We know that governments rely on multiple communications channels to keep the public informed—you rely on everything from community websites, tools like Stories (above), social media pages, communication apps, paper bulletins, and more. If your team has been in communications overdrive managing COVID-19 updates, it can be a struggle to quickly assess what you need to say and the best way to say it.

We pulled the following framework from CEELO that was designed to help educators through their communications process, though the core questions are also highly relevant for government leaders. You can spend five minutes running through these questions and you will have already figured out the communications outline you’ll need to communicate effectively with both internal staff and residents.

  1. What is the purpose? Why is it important to share this? Will it secure public confidence? Is it designed to change public behavior? Or to provide new information? Whatever the reason, be sure to circle back on the final message to ensure it achieves the desired goal.
  2. Who is the audience? Communicating to an internal audience—your department head, colleagues in another department, or a city leader—is one thing, but in this crisis situation, how might you need to adapt the phrasing or formatting to help community members less familiar with the ins and outs of government processes understand?
  3. What message are you trying to get across? If you can’t sum up the takeaway in one sentence, you might need to spend more time on your message before sending it. Great takeaways are easy to understand and leave a positive, proactive impression behind.
  4. Who would best deliver that message? Depending on your purpose, you might adjust who should deliver the message you’re trying to get across. A mayor or city manager might have the community credibility to provide a public update on a key initiative, whereas government staff members might be closer to the data to provide more detailed information on updates when required.
  5. How should we deliver the message? And how often? Again, think about your audience. For use of public Stories like the examples above, bulletins with breaking news might go out daily, whereas CDC updates and guidelines may only need to be adjusted on a weekly basis as needed. Beyond frequency, how critical is the new information to constituents? Will an update to the website or Story suffice, or does it merit additional channels?

What’s Next?

For further reading, take a look at our eBook "Four Government Strategies to Operate and Communicate During a Crisis."

This eBook will discuss four key ways in which modern technology can support the government during and in the aftermath of a crisis.



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