The Ferndale City Hall Public Records Department is responsible for maintaining an accessible and current database of relevant documents. The 2014 flood made this process challenging as most of the documents stored in the basement of the City Hall were either damaged or destroyed (blueprints). The damaged documents were freeze-dried and stored at several locations with the understanding that they will be recovered, inventoried, catalogued, and digitized at a later date together with the varied records housed within the City Hall itself.
In order to better understand this problem, we conducted user interviews. After synthesized our interview results, we assessed that the main problem to consider is the awareness and online engagement of public records.
Thus informed, we worked toward developing a product that was efficient, flexible, and easily adaptable. In this endeavor, we were guided by the fact that the website of the Ferndale City Hall is presently undergoing radical changes and is migrating to a larger, more efficient server. Additionally, the Public Records Department has hired a document management company to select, catalogue, archive, and digitize documents presently stored in the City Hall building and in several other nearby storage facilities. With these operations still very much in flux and fluid deadlines to be considered, our team focused on creating a platform that a) will inform Ferndale citizens about the duties and roles performed by the City Clerks and b) guide them through the process of accessing FOIA documents, as these are the most requested materials.
To do so, we created a Facebook ChatBot called DocuBot. Decisive in our choice to use this social network platform was the fact that the Ferndale Forum has close to 11,000 members in a city whose population is nearing 18,000. We heard about this successful online community from our interviews with key City Hall stakeholders who expressed a keen interest and desire to replicate this type of civic engagement and build a similar following on its own Facebook page.