The Florida Justice Technology Center (FJTC) builds and maintains online tools and legal information websites for use by advocates, volunteers, and self-represented litigants. We use technology to increase access to justice. I am the founding executive director of FJTC and this article is my opinion only.
The more I talk to people around the country about the work that FJTC does, the more I realize that not everyone understands what goes into maintaining a website or online tool once development has been completed. I’d like to share with you the four areas we maintain along with my belief that supporting complex online tools requires a diverse group of skills that need to be specifically hired and retained. Maintenance is more than just making sure you own the domain name.
Technical hosting and maintenance – okay, everyone gets this. Someone has to monitor site integrity and security. Is the site up? Is it secure? Is the backend operating properly? Is the codebase kept up to date for optimal security and performance? And yes, do you still own the domain name? Most modern web applications rely upon some amount of open source software that must be regularly updated as the open source community makes updates and improvements to the code.
Content curation – this has two parts. The first, obviously, is the regulatory and legal maintenance – is the site still legally accurate? The second is ensuring the procedural information on the site remains correct. We build in Florida with the idea that everything we do will be county-specific – meaning if a user generates a document using one of our tools, it will be filable in their county *and* we will supply procedural information so you know how to take the next step.
Offering county-specific tools builds trust with the community we are trying to serve. We work hard to appropriately set expectations with our users, helping them understand the scope and scale of their legal problem and potential remedies. That includes information about the procedural aspects of the work, such as: having the document notarized, making payments to file paperwork, appearing before a judge, etc. All these things help individuals understand how long something will take and how difficult it will be relative to their own perceptions.
When we accurately help users gauge the level of difficulty they are facing, they learn to trust our brand, the tool they used, and, ideally, everything else we build. Consistently proving our reliability will foster trust in our digital apps.
Data analytics – every online tool needs some form of traffic and usage monitoring. I think of this in two ways:
Traffic – this is the quantitative stuff – how many folks came to the site? How many completed forms? How many unique visitors did we have? When do they visit? How did they find us? You get the idea.
Usage – this is the qualitative stuff – how do people actually interact with the site? Do they scroll? How long did they stay on each page they visited, indicating a level of engagement with the content? Which links get the most traffic? How many of our visitors are returning visitors? Do the usage patterns on the site indicate a potential problem or confusing language within a tool?
These definitions are just my way of thinking about the data I want to capture so we can continue to refine, improve, and tweak not one individual site but our overall design and development principles. We strive to build on what we learn from each application and apply those lessons to all of the sites we create.
We use Google Analytics and Google Data Studio. My team has created a dashboard with seven different pages of graphs, charts, etc. that visually represent the usage data we monitor. FJTC has a data analytics specialist who also outsources some of this work to a statistician who runs, well, statistics on our site when Data Studio doesn’t have what we need. Neither one of these folks is full time. The statistician, in particular, works a few hours a month for us in order to run these statistics and create new ones as we continue to refine our analytics.
Outreach – again, there a couple of different aspects to this effort. We do in-person outreach at events, such as TransCon in Miami each year to promote FloridaNameChange.org. We are continuing to grow our reach through social media. We also just call and email folks when we want them to know something; like when we are getting ready to launch a new tool.
We have found that our user testing events have proven to be great opportunities for outreach and valuable user feedback. We do four in-person, on-the-ground user testing events in Florida each year (once a quarter). We partner with social service agencies and legal aid organizations to recruit testers from our target demographic. We pay our testers $10 for a 30-minute session and $20 for a 60-minute session in the form of gift cards. We test between 15 and 30 users at each event. These user testing events are great opportunities for us to demonstrate the value of FloridaLawHelp to our partner agencies as well as share with them our other tools they may not be aware of. By conducting user testing in person and around the state, we get more exposure and more brand awareness than if we did only virtual (i.e. cheaper) types of outreach.
Optimizing the value of any online property requires that these four areas of maintenance are given adequate attention. It is expensive to develop new online tools. In order to maximize the impact of these tools, it’s critical to keep up with their maintenance, which involves much more than renewing a domain name each year.