Project story

Urban Sustainability Directors Network

The Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) connects local government professionals, in more than 100 cities across North America, who are working on sustainability issues. We created a new “worknet” for members to share ideas, expertise, and contact information, upload documents, and coordinate events.

Motive members to participate

Very busy professionals need compelling reasons to use a site. To discover some of those reasons, we interviewed members over the phone and in person at the USDN annual meeting. We also attending meetings of the larger group and of smaller regional and topical sub-groups.  

Make it personal

One theme that came out of the research is “make it personal.” Every member works on particular topics—such as carbon emissions, bike sharing, or motivating behavior change—and they want to see what others are doing in these areas. To support this, we developed a custom tagging algorithm that connects “tagged” members with similarly “tagged” content.

Keep it simple

Main features are a member directory, document library, shared calendars, and question and answer discussions. Although many of these features are available elsewhere, our implementation focused on minimizing the effort that it takes to add new content. The success of this type of site is determined by how willing members to contribute content.

Make things easy to find

A very large percentage of members post on a regular basis. More than 4,000 pieces of content from about 270 members have been added in the site’s first two years. When the amount of content is growing quickly, it’s important to make it easy to find. We have refined search algorithms, including a predictive search and recently released filtering options to allow quick narrowing of results. Members can also subscribe to email digests, based on their interests, that notify them of new items, particular tags, and specific authors.


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