New public information website replaces Oasis


19 Oct 2006

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Comhairle, the national agency tasked with supporting the provision of information, advice and advocacy on social services, yesterday unveiled a substantially upgraded version of its information website.

The new site, renamed www.citizensinformation.ie, takes the place of the existing e-government initiative known as Oasis as well as Comhairle’s online Citizens Information Database (CID).

The site covers a variety of subjects, including employment rights, buying a home, moving abroad and education. The information is sourced from many different service providers and agencies and is divided into 14 categories so that users can readily access the topic relevant to them.

Each category addresses a series of frequently asked questions on the topic, backed by more in-depth information, supporting documents and downloadable forms. This additional material is just one of the changes that people will notice about the site, said Catherine Hughes, Citizens Information project manager. “There’s more detailed information,” she told siliconrepublic.com. “One of the benefits of Oasis was its simplicity but it was also a drawback. It had a simple structure so you couldn’t add additional documents. Now we can add case studies, work sheets and more detail around the legislation.”

Oasis was originally set up in 2001 and last year clocked up 2.5 million unique visitors. The decision to rename the site was instead prompted by the wish to make a clearer connection between the physical Citizens Information Centres — there are 240 located around the country — and the phone service along with its online equivalent.

There will now be a common brand across all three information channels, with new logos and new livery. “One key part of our strategic plan was to integrate our three information channels — face-to-face, phone and the web — to strengthen public awareness of it. We’re making the link between them clearer,” said Hughes.

Oasis was originally built in-house using open source technology and for the latest version of the site a more substantial content management system was chosen. However, Comhairle remained faithful to open source, choosing a system called Plone with technical support provided by the Irish software house Propylon.

A feature called ‘My Information’, previously known as ‘My Oasis’, lets people store references to documents or search results. They can also adjust the preferences for how they view the site, such as font size or language. Documents stored in these accounts are automatically updated to afford immediate access to new information and initiatives as they come online. The most up-to-date news will be featured on the site’s homepage where important events and key changes to the website will also be highlighted.

The searchable database of 8,000 public service addresses such as Garda stations, social welfare offices and schools has now been made more visible on the site, under the heading ‘find an address’. The emphasis in all this will be to increase uptake of the service among the public. “We also hope to use RSS [really simple syndication] to syndicate more content to other organisations than we do today,” added Hughes.

In addition, there is more support for foreign languages. At the moment, the information is available in English and Irish, with certain sections available in French, Romanian and Polish, with translated documents chosen based on their relevance to those communities. The new site has been designed to be accessible to users with disabilities, who may need to use Assistive Technologies to access the site.

By Gordon Smith