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7 Essentials for a Great Municipal Website

The pandemic has accelerated the trend of municipal websites serving as a virtual town square – a central and welcoming place where critical information in shared, business is conducted, connections are made, civic pride is reinforced, and a lot more. 

Local government websites need to function on many levels with multiple objectives that on the surface might appear to compete with each other. Achieving a clean and uncluttered user experience can feel like a challenge when a depth and breadth of features, functions, updates, and data, need to be accommodated.

Striking visuals that present a municipality in its very best light might not seem like the best use of valuable real estate on a web page when so much mission-critical information needs to be easily accessible. How can a site meet the needs of every demographic within a city or community, while still providing a user experience that is familiar and speaks the language of specific segments.

As expert practitioners of human-centered web design, and having partnered with public-sector entities at every level to pursue innovative possibilities for streamlined navigation within an elegantly simple user experience, Promet Source has fine tuned solutions that combine to create great web experiences for both stakeholders and users of municipal websites. 

Here are our top 7:

 

1. Commit to diligent discovery.

The conversation begins with stakeholders. A discovery workshop can reveal a wealth of insights while determining priorities to ensure that subsequent design and development work is aligned. Bringing citizen into the conversation is a critical step that can serve to broaden perspectives and fine tune an approach to user journeys that work for every demographic. Gathering citizen input via focus groups, individual interviews, or some other means, also serves spark ownership and excitement for the new site and demonstrate city officials’ focus on meeting the needs of the community. 

Keep in mind that every community has a unique culture with distinct expectations for how their website should serve their needs. Discovery initiatives should not be skipped or raced through as they always reveal critical distinctions and important priorities.

 

2. Build in flexibility.

Municipal websites need to function as a living, breathing, and essential communications vehicle that can easily be updated, redesigned, or revised as alerts need to be posted, events are planned, seasons change, and new priorities emerge. Consistently relevant and up-to-date web experiences reinforce the site’s validity and help to position it as a single source of truth. As such, the site needs to be designed and developed with tools that empower non-technical staff members who have the right permissions to easily make updates, revise content, or switch up layouts as needed, without ever having to touch the underlying code or call on IT for support.

For a public sector website to serve as a trusted and single source of truth, site managers and content editors need to be able to make updates on the fly. Weather alerts or public health emergencies can emerge with no warning and fa government site to be counted on as a source of up-to-the-minute information, revisions need to happen easily and immediately.

 

3. Ensure accessibility and mobile responsiveness.

Even though web accessibility compliance can vary by state and municipality, ADA Section 508 provides the guiding principal for how to ensure inclusive access to the web for individuals who are living with disabilities. Adhering to accessibility best practices, improves the usability of the site for all users and improves SEO, but the assurance of web accessibility cannot be viewed as a nice-to-have. It is an imperative for any municipality that’s that’s committed to doing the right thing, as well as avoiding a lawsuit. 

Similarly, mobile responsiveness is an absolute requirement in the current environment. The use of mobile devices to access the web is on a sharp upward trajectory, and municipalities need to ensure that their sites are mobile friendly – meaning that the site adapts to a mobile screen and all types of devices without any compromise in quality.

 

4. Encourage and enable the easy offloading of administrative tasks.

A recent IRS study revealed that the cost for an in-person visit to a tax center amounted to $64, the cost of a phone call amounted to $41, and the cost of a website visit: $0.10. Efforts to help citizens to understand the potential fiscal impact of finding needed information and accomplishing tasks online can serve to create a sense of being “part of the solution” when municipal websites are utilized and relied upon with frequency. 

 

5. Avoid vendor lock-in.

Promet Source is a strong advocate of open source for reasons that include the benefits of collective brainpower, tighter security, and cost efficiency. Our position is one that’s largely shared by the Federal Government. 

State and local governments that opt for proprietary CMS software solutions that were developed and are owned by individual companies, find themselves committed -- for the life of their websites -- to a web developer that owns the code. That’s what’s called vendor lock-In and the the impact is far from optimal.

An essential difference between a CMS that’s built using open source software and one that’s built using proprietary, software that carries licensing fees: While there’s no guarantee that either developer will live up to expectations over the long haul, but if an open source developer goes out of business or changes direction, the tooling and investment in the open source site remains intact. The client owns the code and there are countless of other Drupal developers willing and able to pick right up on supporting the site.

See a side-by-side comparison of open source vs. proprietary for government websites.

 

 

 

6. Expedite processes.

Completing administrative tasks, finding and filling out forms, and getting quick answers to needed information are the types of tasks all users want to complete as quickly and painlessly as possible. Wherever possible, forms need to be fillable and submitted directly from the site. Keep in mind that many people do not have printers or are conducting business away from their home or office.

Review analytics to understand the tasks and types of information that users are seeking to accomplish most often, and focus on making that information particularly accessible and easy to find.

 

7. Cultivate civic pride.

Beyond conveying critical information and streamlining navigation to information and resources, local government sites need to present the municipality in it’s very best light for both citizens and visitors.

Just as citizens have high expectations that the grounds and interior of their city hall, be welcoming, well maintained, and easy find what they’re looking for, expectations are high for a modern, easy to navigate, beautifully designed website that showcases points of pride, local attractions, and the distinct culture.  

Everyone, from the most tech-savvy to the most tech-resistant, appreciates a web experience that is easy and efficient, and forward-thinking local leaders are aware that every positive web interaction represents an opportunity to serve citizens, cultivate new possibilities for connection, and create new levels of cost-saving efficiencies. 

Partnering with the public sector to create next-level web experiences that address the full spectrum of citizen needs and expectations is what we do here at Promet Source.

Interested in what we can do for you? Let’s talk!

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