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Representation of a checklist for government websites

Best Practice Blueprint for County and Municipal Sites

We consult with dozens of county and municipal government website stakeholders every month, and more so than ever before, one overarching theme emerges: High constituent expectations coupled with budget constraints are contributing to an environment in which the stakes for getting it right are high. 

County and municipal websites need to be built with the capacity to fire on multiple cylinders, at all times, for a spectrum of constituents who have vastly different needs.

Functioning as the new town square, websites need to simplify complexities, streamline access to needed information, offload administrative tasks, ensure web accessibility, serve as a source of civic pride, be easily updated, visually engaging, inherently scalable, and (of course) secure. 

And that’s just the beginning. 

On top of the above requirements, all county and municipal websites need to meet distinct objectives that reflect local issues and particular opportunities.

So, how to prioritize among wide ranging must-haves and determine where to begin? The 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act, also referred to as the 21st Century IDEA, can serve as a solid starting point and ongoing resource for local government websites.

What is the 21st Century IDEA?

Signed into law in December of 2018, the 21st Century IDEA is designed to ensure online, mobile-friendly, digital service for the public in a manner that decreases cost, increases digital conversion rates, and improves customer experience. 

According to U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), who sponsored the bill, “Government exists to serve citizens, and this bill ensures government leverages available technology to provide cohesive, user-friendly online service that people around this country expect and deserve.


21st century IDEA


The 21st Century IDEA has defined standards for modernization of websites that are intended for use by the public based on the following nine criteria: 

  1. Accessible to individuals with disabilities in accordance with section 508 of Americans with Disabilities Act
  2. Consistent among Federal Government agencies, in an effort to achieve as much standardization and commonality with other executive agencies as practicable, for purposes of facilitating future transitions to centralized shared services.
  3. Authoritative and official with content that is up to date, regularly reviewed, not duplicated on a legacy site, and clearly identifies as an official government website.  
  4. Secure, due to an industry standard secure connection, that meets all current requirements.
  5. Data-driven analytics influence management and development decisions based on user needs and behaviors. 
  6. Search functionality streamlines access to needed information and forms; content is optimized for search.
  7. Design is built upon modern standards for optimal UX and current user needs, which includes full functionality on common mobile devices. 
  8. Web-based forms, applications and digital services enable efficient, accurate online completion of transactions.
  9. Privacy best practices are in place to protect user information. 


Are State and Local Websites Required to Comply with the 21st Century IDEA?

No. the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act was designed for Federal Agencies. We’ve found, however, that it serves as an excellent best practice starting point for state, county, and municipal website design and development.

The list of requirements set forth in the 21st Century IDEA represents a valuable set of digital experience guidelines and standards established by the Federal Government.

The guidelines are designed to ensure a consistently high level of efficiency, effectiveness, and usability, and as such, there is every reason for the 21st Century IDEA to be a top-of-mind consideration in the design, development and maintenance of state, county, and municipal websites.

It’s important to keep in mind though, that many states and municipalities have their own laws and compliance standards concerning web design and digital experience. This is particularly true for accessibility, as state and local laws and policies can vary concerning WCAG 2.1 compliance.

Even in the absence of explicit legal requirements, however, we believe that WCAG 2.1 compliance is always the right thing to do.


Fueling Next-Gen Public Sector Sites

The passage of the 21st Century IDEA represents a significant step forward for public sector sites at all levels of government. Optimal digital experience for all constituents can translate into significant savings of taxpayer dollars as questions get answered and tasks get efficiently completed online.

Up-to-date information from a trusted source of truth can mean greater and more cohesive community engagement. A human-centered, data-driven strategy opens the doors to vast new possibilities for government websites at all levels – Federal, state, county, and municipal. 

Interested in a conversation about accessible, engaging, data-driven digital experiences that ignite new possibilities? That’s what we do. Let’s talk.