A former citizen does a test drive of a premier digital government portal.

I was born in the Tarheel State. My father, a county extension agent, and my mother, a homemaker, lived in a converted chicken coop in Wayne County then. They raised piglets. And NO — I won’t digress and tell that story.

Twice, I’ve returned to establish residence. North Carolina is a great place to live for many reasons, not the least of which is the way it embraces digital government. A mobile device is your ticket to swift and easy interaction with the State of North Carolina.

In a recent blog post, David Smith described a North Carolina initiative: a technology proving ground known as the Innovation Center (iCenter). The State has consolidated its IT operations and put a strong emphasis on enabling technologies in order to better arm the government workforce with the actionable apps and data that ultimately will serve citizens.

The State has received kudos for its efforts. In September, 2016, North Carolina increased its Center for Digital Government Grade for technology practices to a B+. Citizen Engagement was another category in which North Carolina was recognized – with a fifth place ranking nationwide!

What I want to know is this: do digital government services really help citizens interact with the government in a more efficient way? Let’s engage and see, shall we? By clicking “Services” on nc.gov, I’m led to a handy catalog that organizes, by category, the available digital government services. There are also additional links at the bottom of the page to the most common choices.

Having been born, married, and divorced in North Carolina, the vital records link at the bottom of the page is my first stop. From this link, I can securely order certified copies of documents that prove the aforementioned transactions (I don’t have to worry about my personally identifiable information — or PII — being compromised, either). I also can find the same information in the Courts and Justice category.

My next stop is the NDOT page. Wow! The North Carolina Department of Transportation sure has jazzed things up in the last several years. Today, all things automobile-related — renewing a vehicle registration, paying auto taxes, getting duplicate registrations cards, renewing a driver’s license, ordering vanity plates, and more — can be accomplished online. A North Carolinian can also estimate a vehicle’s property tax levy, get a driving record, or resolve lapses in insurance or commercial driving permits. If I still had an active NC driver’s license and wanted a warm reminder, I could search for those speeding tickets I amassed on I-40 over the last several years (it’s possible that I left a lot of folks in the dust… but I digress)

Speaking of dust — and dirt — how about erosion and sediment? That’s a big topic in some circles. I once came close to buying a property at Atlantic Beach that had a small erosion problem. OK. In truth, it had a hole in the backyard the size of a lunar crater. Ever the optimist, I figured that there must be a way to mitigate the erosion. I did not buy the house, however, because I could not find the right expert resources to help me figure it all out. Now those who live and breathe erosion and sediment are only a click away. In case you want to know, they’re in the same category with the guys who specialize in stormwater and runoff: Land and Environment.

What if, during that not-meant-to-be hypothetical move to Atlantic beach, I had made friends with people who wanted more public access points to reach the ocean? We could have decided to begin a Public Beach and Access Project. That’s covered on the Land and Environment tab, too. There’s even a link to grants workshops in case you need an education before you begin. “Impressive,” I say!

Speaking of impressive, I had a cousin who stole a car. He once was incarcerated in North Carolina. Maybe I can find out if he is still in prison? A search under “prison” gives me facilities information, among other things. Then I discover I can find offender data under the Courts and Justice tab, as well as an entire section on Crime and Criminals that also leads to offender data (I’m pleased to confirm, by the way, that a name search reveals no current record available on my cousin).

On a lighter note, maybe I need a weekend break. I want to find a venue for hiking or boating. The Recreation and Culture tab provides a plethora of choices.

And if I’m thirsty? I can find North Carolina Wineries with several more clicks from that same page.

Wine makes me think of food and food makes me think of the State Fair. You’ll find everything you need to know — from vendor applications to events calendars and accommodations — on the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services page entitled “N.C. State Fair Division.” That’s also a quick drill down from Recreation and Culture.

What if you don’t know who to call? (Ghostbusters?) There’s a page for that, too. Appropriately called “Contact,” the page is divided up into an Agency Directory, an Employee Directory, Contact the Governor’s Office and a Map of State Offices in Raleigh. Not only is the map informative, but also it can double as a great bike trail if you didn’t find the bike map under Recreation and Culture.

What’s the moral of this story? This short treasure hunt reveals how digital government does indeed make the search for actionable information easier for citizens. If you’re a Tarheel and you want to be “in-the-know,” nothing could be finer than to surf North Carolina — on the web, that is!

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