Can WordPress change the political transparency of an entire country?

Written by: Emanuel Blagonic

Published on: February 17, 2016

To me – WordPress always meant freedom to publish anything. From 2005. it helped me make a living and what’s even more important – it grew with me. 10 years later, in 2015., we were approached to build a new website for the City of Rijeka on WordPress.

WordPress in Croatia is still considered a “blog tool”, so when Rijeka decided to go with it—being a third largest city—it was a major thing. It was then that we suggested to go with “design in the open” approach and to give all files produced in the process as open source under GPL. And they said yes.

Now, six months into this project and seeing an end to it, I am more than satisfied with how the things turned out. The whole project sparkled the community with people constantly asking “how is it going” and “thanks for sharing”.

Since this kind of transparency in building a website for local self-government was never before achieved it got a lot of traction in both media and community. We didn’t know what to expect, though, since none of the extra work (like writing a blog (in Croatian), creating educational workshops or making changes to our workflow because we went GPL) was even budgeted. But we believed this was the right thing to do.

Listening to professionals

Rijeka has been awarded the title of “the most transparent city in Croatia” for years in a row but that wouldn’t be enough if we didn’t have a partner in them. Brainstormings and a lot of wireframing in the beginning of the project pawed solid grounds for further development.

We decided to focus on “what users need” so we asked citizens from Rijeka to answer a poll. That helped us both understand their needs as well as to validate our own ideas and approaches.

We were on the right track.

For an entire month, I lived in Rijeka and worked closely with a team from within the city to come up with initial designs. We addressed a lot of issues and substantial progress has been made. And even before delivering designs, we showed wireframes to both city officials and citizens in a special workshop.

Since end results will be available under GPL, we also approached other cities and asked them about their problems with current websites.

What we found helped us create a good initial design with a focus on user needs.

Since this project was special for being the first of its kind – we invested (and are still investing) a lot of extra effort. This wouldn’t be possible without a help from other amazing colleagues and friends.

Educational conference

On Thursday, February 9th, Rijeka in its city hall hosted an educational half-day conference with speakers covering topics like copywriting for the web, importance of SEO and how to maximize reach on social networks. Talks were held by renowned speakers like Nebojša Grbačić from Copyraonica, Dragan Barišić from Mijena and Iva Soldo from Bamboo Lab.

But for me, the most important talk was held by a blind man. Danijel Horvat explained problems that blind and partially sighted people have in accessing the web helping us understand their struggle. From the beginning, we thought about the accessibility of the new website and now we’re seeing it as an opportunity to lay grounds for even better understanding on the local and (more importantly) – national level.

Remarkable comments

So far – the comments were more than inspirational to us. Even the introductory Q&A with the citizens outreached our expectations. More than 100 people responded and we got some really quality feedback.

The same feedback has been given to us by Croatian design communities – from front-end developers to WordPress community both feedback and comments were remarkable.

When you’re walking the path of transparency you must be prepared for all sort of questions. In the process – there were some negative comments (mostly about the price) but we responded to, well – most of them. When we got a question that was not a hateful question – we did our best to respond – even if we didn’t agree with some of the remarks.

I believe in the freedom of speech and I strongly believe in the political transparency and especially when we talk about government and local self–governments. Croatia is a young democracy and we’re still trying to walk the right path. We have obstacles—for sure—but every democracy was like that in the beginning. This might be a pioneering project for Croatia and a lot of dots had to be connected so that we could work on it. Today, this makes me both happy and proud.

Hear the story

I’d like to share this story with you. It had it’s ups and downs but at the end, it’s a story with a happy end. We’re still a month and a half away from delivering the finalized website but it should be ready just for WordCamp London and WordCamp Nuremberg – where I’ll do my best to share it with you. See you in London and in Nuremberg.