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How a simple API can automate delivery of complex communications

An Application Programming Interface (API) is an important – and often unseen – resource for anyone participating in the digital space. In many ways, APIs have changed the landscape in which we interact with each other and consume content, including how we research and purchase things like holidays, mortgages and insurance.

For public sector organisations, APIs can save time and reduce workloads by facilitating seamless interaction between your digital communications services (for example your email alerts) and other databases or software. They can eliminate human error and automate tasks which help: grow your audience; drive engagement with your organisation; manage your mailing lists; and deliver SMS or email alerts based on specific behaviours or criteria. APIs are changing the way citizens engage with organisations, making ‘transactions’ and exchanges of information seamless and accurate.

The state of Washington is a great example of how APIs are automating the ‘citizen experience’; improving how citizens interact with government. With a population of more than seven million people, Washington’s bicameral legislative body can create more than 2,000 bills each legislative session. This can make it challenging for a citizen to keep track of the bills they’re interested in following.

As a result, Washington created a system for notifications on their website where you can query by bill number or topic, and then sign up to receive automatic email notifications when a bill is updated.

Brad Ellis oversaw this project at the state of Washington, and when asked why he sought to develop an API to automatically deliver bill updates to citizens, he said, “We were looking for a solution to create and manage potentially thousands of topics, for bills created during a legislative session. And, manually creating and managing this large number of topics was not sustainable. Instead, the solution was to write an integration with GovDelivery’s Topics API”, available with the GovDelivery Communications Cloud by Granicus.

Washington wanted to offer topic subscriptions for each of these legislative bills, but due to the volume of bills, the ability to automate the creation of a topic for each bill was essential. They used an application that uses GovDelivery’s Topic API to automate the creation of bill topics. While Washington implemented the bill notifications late during the last legislative session, the API still generated more than 400 bill topics.

According to Brad, setting up the API integration was easy thanks to the documentation and assistance from Granicus’ implementation team. There were a number of communications between Washington state and Granicus to fully understand the Topics API features, for example to ‘Page Watch’ and ‘Page Watch Auto-send’.

Page Watch is a Granicus tool used to notify subscribers when content is updated online. The feature ‘watches’ online content hosted on client servers using HTTP and cues administrators to notify subscribers of any updates to that content. This removes the need for any manual work to produce and disseminate any communication.

By enabling Page Watch functionality and integrating it with an API, Washington was able to easily create a system that would better inform their citizens who wanted to engage on bill development.

While the state benefited from automation, the real beneficiary are the citizens who immediately receive notifications on the bills they’re interested in.

Washington is a great example of how even the most subtle automation can enhance the citizen experience in big ways, and also save time and resources for busy government teams.

To find out how your organisation could benefit from using our Topic API (to sync your email/SMS alert topics with another website, database or software system), please contact us.