2013-10-31 / Front Page

Interactive Website Launched

By Tom Shevlin

With an eye toward improving communication inside and outside of City Hall, city officials quietly launched a new website earlier this week as part of its ongoing "Engage Newport" initiative.

Touting itself as “an evolving forum for opinions and ideas about our city’s major initiatives,” the site aims to provide “another channel of communication between city government and the people of Newport.”

Visitors to the new site, Engage- Newport.com, are greeted with a clean, modern design featuring a series of subcategories all geared toward shedding light on the workings of city government and how local residents can become more involved in civic affairs.

A link at the top of the page that reads “Opinion Newport” directs users to a separate web portal designed to capture citizen input through a series of online survey tools and message boards. Another provides information on present day issues and initiatives, while a third gives residents tools to connect with elected leaders and city staff.

Current issues being presented include discussions on sea level rise, downtown parking, and a pho- to-driven campaign entitled “Picture Newport,” which allows residents to post their favorite images from around town and encourages others to share their reactions to the scenes.

Though the site is still being rolled out – a headline reading “Coming Soon” still appears at the top of the screen – community members have already begun populating the site through its online message boards and sharing its launch via social media and email chains.

“One of the primary uses for [the site] is as an interactive platform for large issues that the city is promoting,” explained City Manager Jane Howington, who expects the site to grow and evolve over time.

“We’re going to see how people use the site,” she said, adding that she’s encouraging visitors to access the portal through the city’s main website, CityofNewport.com.

Built by Newport-based Worldways Social Marketing, Engage- Newport.com is the first visible outgrowth of a challenge issued by the council to improve the administration’s outreach into the community.

The site’s launch also coincides with the city’s "Sea Aware" initiative, which is aimed at educating residents and business owners about the threat posed by a rise in sea levels.

Last week, city officials joined with other statewide agencies and community stakeholders to host a forum on the subject at the Gateway

Visitors Center. The results of that forum, and an invitation for community members to weigh in on the subject, are among the first major topics being broached through the Engage Newport site.

Next up: that comprehensive discussion about parking. According to Howington, administration officials are due to begin conducting a major review to address the city’s perennial parking problems later this winter. Engage Newport is expected to play an integral role in its outcome.

“I hope it’s a small snowball that just keeps growing,” Howington said. “We still have a long way to go yet.”

In the coming weeks, she plans on putting together a review board, “which would be kind of like an editorial board" to expand the site’s reach and direction.

In addition, she said, the city is currently coming into the final stages on a redesign of its main website. According to Howington, the new site will be launched sometime in late December or January.

In the coming months, Howington said that community members can expect to see more outreach efforts under the banner of Engage Newport.

In the meantime, residents can join the conversation by accessing the new site directly at EngageNewport.com or through a link on the front page of the city’s main website, CityofNewport.com.

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