A lifetime of involvement in special districts and a love for small local government has given me an understanding of just how challenging it can be for agencies to communicate online. However, instead of focusing on how hard it is, I’d like to look at five non-negotiable things your site should do for you. Just because it's been hard in the past doesn't mean it has to be hard now. We're here to make sure of that.
Technology isn’t your enemy, and it can definitely be your friend. So let’s explore this utopian online world. (Note: if you'd like to download our self-assessment matrix to check your site against this utopian world, you can find it here.)
1. YOUR WEBSITE SHOULD MAKE YOUR LIFE EASIER.
At the very least, updating your site should be easy. You should be able to upload an agenda to the appropriate spot in less than two minutes, and your visitors should be able to find that agenda in a location that makes sense. Websites are not rocket science, so why do web development companies continue to treat them as such?
If you then want to email that agenda (or any other piece of site content), to your people—board members, the press or the public—you should be able to do that from your site in just a few clicks. Why go to another online system and recreate your content in order to send an email? If that content already exists on your website, the site should help you send it. Period.
Most importantly, your staff should not need mad technical skills to keep your site up to date. Everyone from your secretary to your general manager to one of your board members should be able to update the site. (Not that you necessarily want to let all these people do so!)
2. YOUR WEBSITE SHOULD MAKE YOUR LIFE SAFER.
Your website should protect you from the potential pitfalls of being online as an organization. It should be Section 508 compliant for users with disabilities. It should be responsive and mobile friendly on all devices. It should tell you when you’re about to miss something important. That deadline for uploading your agenda before the next meeting? Your website should tell you it’s coming up, and give you an easy way to get your agenda posted quickly.
3. YOUR WEBSITE SHOULD HAVE YOUR BACK WHEN IT COMES TO "TRANSPARENCY."
A local government website should make transparency as painless as possible. It should provide starter content, best practices guidance, and a way to track your transparency status. It should let you know when your content needs to be updated. (Hello, nudge nudge...That old policy: when was it last updated?)
In a perfect world the state wouldn’t pass down mandates to local government; it would let you go about your business since you know what you’re doing. But since the state does do this, your site should be able to assist with changing compliance needs. (Learn more about the latest mandate, SB 272, and our free tool here.)
We realize "transparency" and "open data" get thrown around a lot these days. We're doing everything we can to make it easier.
4. YOUR WEBSITE SHOULD SAVE YOU FROM SOFTWARE OBSOLESCENCE.
Who has the time or money to invest in a new website every few years? If your site gets continually updated with improvements, you can focus on what you do best: serving your citizens.
And while we’re at it, your site should be flexible enough for you to change the look and feel without rebuilding it, hiring someone new, or spending more money. You already speak Local Government; you shouldn't also have to know HTML or CSS.
5. YOUR WEBSITE SHOULD BE PREDICTABLE.
It should be easy to understand what your site costs over time, and you shouldn’t have to plan for fluctuating, unpredictable hosting and support fees. You should never have to go back to your board asking for more money because you hit your upload limit, or need additional support.
You don’t want to wait on someone else to update your site, and wonder what the bill will look like when it arrives. And because you’ll have questions, support should be unlimited and included at no additional cost.
You should have the ability to download your content and do with it as you will, including moving to another provider. Your website vendor should build such great software that you never, ever want to leave. But you should be able to do so if you choose.
This is what we're creating, and we invite you to join our community.
If you'd like to check your website based upon these guidelines, we invite you to download our self assessment matrix.