ArcGIS Hub

Fostering Collaboration Among Members

The Engagement Matters Podcast

Season 1, Episode 4

Jennifer Chapman, President of the National Association of Government Web Professionals (or NAGW), shares how she fosters collaboration and knowledge sharing across her member community.

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Background

What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word “webmaster?” If you were born in the 1900’s (like many of us), you probably remember that one person in IT whose responsibility was to build the website. That often meant a single developer typing away on their keyboard since there was no concept of no code/low code, nor was it easy for these pros to share ideas, knowledge or code snippets. The solution that many found was in professional organizations like the National Association of Government Webmasters (NAGW) which was formally founded in 2005. NAGW offered members the ability to build their professional networks and to enhance their skills by collaborating with other government webmasters across the United States. Fast forward to 2024, and there are few webmasters to be found.

The Webmasters of today

The Internet has evolved rapidly in the last 20 years. Web professionals, as NAGW’s recent name change to “National Association of Government Web Professionals” indicates, reflects the evolving nature of the web. Content management systems, user experience/user interface design, social media, apps, smartphones and much more have transformed industries and brought many non-IT jobs into NAGW’s sphere. Members now bring a wide array of skills and specializations to their organizations and NAGW has had to adapt. Few people know this better than Jennifer Chapman, who currently serves as the President of NAGW. Her career arc is very similar to many of NAGW’s members: she’s a trained journalist and storyteller that enjoys connecting with the community she serves in the northern Atlanta suburbs. “I was introduced to NAGW by the former webmaster of the city I work for,” is how Jennifer’s story with NAGW begins. The webmaster was an adept programmer and found value in the professional organization, often evangelizing its value to other tech-savvy staff at the city. As Jennifer became more and more involved in NAGW’s activities and annual conference, she realized how much she had learned from other members and eventually became the Digital Communications Manager once the webmaster retired. Yet, assuming the webmaster’s duties along with all other things “digital communications” was no small feat.

Delivering value for members in different ways

The central selling point of NAGW is the ability for members to network with each other and share knowledge. As Jennifer grew into her new role and all the responsibilities that came with it, she saw “NAGW as not only a resource, but an opportunity to continue learning.” She attended meetings, participated online in discussions, and shared marketing templates and ideas. The professional network provided tangible ideas for successful engagement strategies that worked across other levels of government. This fountain of resources is something that Jennifer and the Board of Directors try to keep flowing throughout the year. The goal is to continuously deliver value to members through opportunities to network and learn. Jennifer can tell that the approach works because it leads NAGW’s own members to come up with great ideas like “the Fireside Chats that we launched this year.” The concept is remarkably simple but an effective twist on an old classic: have a webinar that’s focused on thought leadership instead of only on technical know-how. The fireside chats don’t replace the traditional webinars that NAGW holds. Instead, they offer another way that members can learn from their peers and build better ways of collaborating across their own organizations.

This focus on the members rather than on the NAGW organization itself is what keeps members engaged and participating. One thing that Jennifer is adamant about keeping is the organization’s listserv. Her sentiment that “it literally brings a smile to my face when I get the email notification every day at four o’clock” is one that is echoed by other long-time members. The daily digest of discussions among members reinforces the networking aspect of the organization while also staying true to NAGW’s roots. It proves that some engagement mechanisms that work – even if they’re potentially antiquated – still can do a lot of good. Alongside the listserv, Jennifer and the Board still prioritize the monthly newsletter and even task-specific working groups.

Adapting to new requirements

One of the newest working groups that was formed within NAGW focuses on the recent US Department of Justice accessibility ruling. In a nutshell, the new rules outline the requirements that governments within the United States must meet to ensure accessibility to digital communications – websites, apps – by citizens that might have challenges with sight, hearing, or more. Members saw this as an opportunity to collaborate. Why pour over the lengthy ruling on their own when the mental load can be shared among members? The working group even started to circulate implementation plans and schedules that members were developing for themselves with the goal of making the new rules easier to implement across all member organizations. Jennifer points out that “while [someone’s] needs may be a little different over in California than they are here in Georgia” the core of what the working group is focused on applies to everyone. This collaborative approach to problem-solving helps raises awareness and the quality of products that governments produce across the country.

Recognizing exceptional work

In addition to delivering value throughout the year and guiding members through emerging challenges, NAGW also makes a big effort to recognize exceptional work among members through the Pinnacle Awards. Jennifer describes the Pinnacle Awards as “a cornerstone of the organization” in that they have been around since the early days of NAGW and that they support the members’ desire to continuously improve the quality of the products they create. The nominations – and even some winners – span the spectrum of technological capability from exceptionally designed, CMS-backed websites, to task-specific tools based on custom code, and everything in between. It’s not the product that’s used but the intent and execution of the tool that is rewarded by the organization to the winners. Each year this process is repeated among members and non-members submissions to identify trends and best practices across web-based tools that governments use to engage with citizens.

Focusing on the mission

In many ways the litany of responsibilities that the modern web professional must carry is daunting. Requirements gathering, configuration, coding, accessibility, procurement, collaboration, engagement – this list can go on and on – and any combination of these skills can be overwhelming without a professional network to rely on. Having been a member, a board member and now President, Jennifer knows this first-hand. “It’s a lot to learn and keep up with but being able to pick up the phone and call Lynn in California to get her perspective” is invaluable, but it’s also in keeping with NAGW’s core mission, both within the organization and throughout its membership. As titles change and responsibilities evolve, NAGW is there to support its members and keep the information flowing.

Learn More or Get Involved

If you want to know more about the National Association of Government Web Professionals, or to inquire about membership, visit nagw.org.

If you are interested in ArcGIS Hub – a no-code solution from Esri for creating websites (“sites”) that supports stakeholder collaboration and engagement – you can follow this podcast series, read these blog articles, view examples from the ArcGIS Hub community in the Hub Gallery, or watch these instructional videos.

About the authors

Nick O'Day is a Senior Consultant on Esri's Professional Services team where he leads complex ArcGIS implementations that drive insight and action through data. He also hosts Esri's "Engagement Matters" podcast where he talks to experts that are setting new standards in collaboration and engagement. Before joining Esri in 2022, Nick worked for 18 years in data analytics supporting local government, consulting firms, and startup companies using ArcGIS as a Chief Data Officer and GIS Manager. When Nick isn't GIS'ing, he's usually cooking, eating, or exploring something new in sunny Los Angeles.

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Maria Jordan is a senior product marketer at Esri specializing in ArcGIS products and apps designed to improve community engagement, communication, collaboration, and data sharing. She has been at Esri for 20+ years in a variety of marketing roles and is focused on creating practical resources that convey best practices and customer successes to help organizations achieve their goals.

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