September 19, 2008 By Andy Opsahl
Photo: Phil Bertolini, CIO of Oakland County
Blogging novices got a quick tutorial in Oakland County, Mich., over Labor Day weekend at the region's annual Arts, Beats & Eats festival. The county Department of Information Technology created a "Blogin' Café," in which 2,300 of the festival's 1.5 million attendees blogged on bLOGINCafe.com. The county created the site for the festival.
"The blog itself was really to see if there was a need by the public to blog. Many of them didn't even know what a blog was, and many rounds of applause were given for those that were first-time bloggers," said Phil Bertolini, CIO of Oakland County. He said the project revealed that blogging is a useful way to collect citizens' feedback on government issues.
Utilizing the county's community server to host bLOGINcafe.com, the three-day event offered 15 outdoor computers, 20 indoor computers and a volunteer team of county IT technicians to provide instruction on blogging.
"We had people coming from our court and our clerk's office to volunteer," Bertolini said.
Oakland County mostly used its existing resources to establish the bLOGINcafé, and that kept costs down.
"We have a very large Web group in our IT department run by Jim Taylor, our chief of e-government. He created the graphics and we purchased the URL and built the Web-enabled doorway to get to the blog," Bertolini said.
Michigan's economy was an especially popular topic among the bloggers, given the state's struggling auto industry, said Bertolini. The "green" issue appeared frequently as well because of the carbon emission standards that government is imposing on vehicle manufacturers.
"We're going to publish the information from the blogs and the consensus of different issues that were out there," Bertolini said.
"The most interesting aspect of the three days of blogging was all of the people with limited technology skills. When brought to the computer and given basic instruction, they were able to blog and be effective," Bertolini said.
Oakland County's portal was named the top county portal in the nation at the Center for Digital Government's Best of the Web event in Hollywood, Calif. on Sept. 12.
All over the country, community leaders are looking to boost economic development through various initiatives. One key element in many of those initiatives is the use of information technology. When local governments build IT infrastructure, create e-government applications, assist high-tech startups or otherwise focus on technology, they create conditions that draw businesses to their communities and help retain skilled workers. This paper discusses and provides examples of these various ways local government can use technology to ultimately make a community more attractive to businesses, visitors and residents.