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Congratulations to all of the NC counties that placed in this year’s 2015 Digital Counties Survey, but an extra special congrats to our First Place Winner!

Catawba County, N.C., took first place in the 150,000 to 250,000 population category for its social engagement initiative, centralized GIS website, performance metrics, open data efforts, shared services initiative, and commitment to the environment. Catawba County ranked first in North Carolina for total public recycling per capita.

Social engagement and social media are crucial elements of the county’s operations, said CIO Rick Pilato, because those online interactions enable them to direct citizens toward the services and information that they demand.

Catawba County was recognized by judges for its ‘Life, Well Run‘ campaign, which showcases work the government has been doing. The program’s Web portal is an instance of leading by doing, Pilato said. By encouraging issues that align with the county’s own goals, they can encourage citizens to work with them in parallel. Issues like public service and the use of green building materials are highlighted by the program, said Pilato.

Social engagement can be challenging, Pilato said, but they key is not to give up.

“You can create a Facebook page and only get 100 people on there,” he added, “but if you’re putting information on there that folks are really interested in, that number’s going to organically grow and sometimes you’ve got to give it time.”

Engaging with the public also means presenting information in many different forms, Pilato said, and one thing many governments may not realize is that the format of the data is often as important as the data itself. The data that government publishes, he said, should be easily understandable and easily manipulated by the citizenry.