State, local governments build on analytics.usa.gov

IT managers in Tennessee, Philadelphia and Boulder, Colo., offer insights for integrating the analytics.usa.gov dashboard into state and local government.

IT shops in Tennessee, Philadelphia and Boulder, Colo. are taking advantage of the open-source analytics.usa.gov dashboard,  leveraging its tools for analytics to make data-driven decisions. Each team has provided tips to other organizations for smooth adoption in a recent 18F blog post.

Analytics.usa.gov was launched by 18F, the General Services Administration's Digital Analytics Program, the White House and the U.S. Digital Service last March, and the code for the website and data collection tools were made publically available on GitHub.

The city of Boulder uses a version of the dashboard as an internal stats page for content managers to track metrics like social media and search, giving them usage data for content-based decisions.  Developers integrated the dashboard into the city’s custom content management system by putting the dashboard in PHP as a module specifically for Xpress, according to Ron Pringle, a senior PHP application programmer analyst for Boulder.  

Pringle said integrating the tool is made easier when piggybacking off existing code, and he used Google’s online API tester to verify additional application programming interface calls he created to expand the dashboards reporting capabilities. He recommends keeping it data displays simple and used Charts.js for JavaScript rather than D3. And following 18F’s lead, Boulder caches the data, which it plans to use those cached files as a source for the city’s open data catalog.

Lauren Ancona, senior data scientist at Philadelphia’s Office of Innovation and Technology, told 18F her city’s OIT department frequently uses the dashboard to find information on the city’s website content and in discussions  about whether those sites should support legacy browsers and devices.

Ancona said adapting the front- and back-end pieces of  analytics.usa.gov should be “straightforward” for a junior developer, and because the city already had a adjusting the dashboard’s appearance to match the department’s other work was easier.

Further, Ancona suggested that having cohesive analytics data to put into the new platform is critical, and Philadelphia uses a single piece of code on each web page to enable configuration, collection and reporting. This approach gathers Google Analytics measurements and adds analytics on PDF downloads, JavaScript errors and a module to collect feedback collection. The OIT is building off of the dashboard, and working on custom report configurations using Google Analytics Embed API to retrieve data and display it by city department so managers can login and use the data for content decision making.

Tennessee’s Department of Environment and Conservation, meanwhile, was already building infographics, so it integrated analytics.usa.gov code to build intelligent graphs and run the reporter tool on the department’s existing server. 

According to Cody Rockwood, a project manager in the department’s Information Systems Division, adopting the dashboard has enabled staff to better understand how users are interacting with the department and make data-driven decisions. “The benefits of this project have more than warranted spending the time implementing it,” Rockwood told 18F.

Since implementation, Rockwood said his team recognizes how modern technology can improve government and is anxious to expand the platform’s functionality through additional digital services.

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