May 20, 2024

What the best municipal websites are made of

Based on the many aspects of life that a local government website is a part of, a municipal website can no longer be seen as a nice-to-have, but rather a necessity.

A couple of years ago we had the payoff line “The Last Municipal Website you’ll ever Need” Still true, but with a couple of revisions. In the ever-changing digital age, a municipality's website went from a “kinda tool” to a necessity. It now serves as its digital front door, welcoming residents, visitors, and businesses alike. Instead of the typical town hall door, this one is always open, but similar to the town hall entrance, it's a service center. It's not merely a virtual presence; it's a vital tool for engagement, communication, and service delivery. As communities evolve, so do their expectations from municipal websites. To truly stand out and serve effectively, the municipal websites need to offer a combination of functionality, information and the opportunity for community engagement.

Let's delve into the essential components that make them exceptional.

1. Serving Communities Effectively

The primary purpose of a municipal website is to serve the community comprehensively. Here are five key ways these websites fulfill this role:

a. Information Hub:

Municipal websites serve as a one-stop-shop for information. They provide details about local government services, departments, officials, policies, and ordinances. Residents can easily access information on trash collection schedules, permit applications, community events, and more.

b. Communication Platform:

Effective communication is the cornerstone of community engagement. Municipal websites facilitate and encourage participation from residents by providing two-way communication between residents and government entities. They offer contact forms, feedback mechanisms, mass communication tools for emergency updates and newsletters to keep residents informed and gather their input on important matters.

c. Transparency and Accountability:

Transparency builds trust within the community. Municipal websites publish budgets, financial reports, ordinances and meeting minutes. The availability of information and the relevant documentation, encourages a relationship of transparency and accountability between the municipality and the community. This transparency reassures residents that their local government operates with integrity and openness.

d. Civic Engagement:

Empowering residents to participate in community activities strengthens the fabric of the community. Municipal websites feature event calendars, volunteer opportunities, and forums for public discourse. They encourage residents to attend town hall meetings, join advisory boards, and contribute to local initiatives.

e. Emergency Management:

In times of crisis, timely and accurate information can be life-saving. Municipal websites provide emergency alerts, evacuation procedures, and resources for disaster preparedness. They serve as a vital communication channel during natural disasters, public health emergencies, or other critical situations.

2. ADA Compliance and Accessibility

Accessibility is not just a legal requirement; it's vital. Best municipal websites prioritize accessibility to ensure that all residents, regardless of ability, can access and use online services seamlessly. They adhere to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and implement features such as alternative text for images, keyboard navigation, and compatibility with screen readers.

By making municipal  websites inclusive, municipalities demonstrate their commitment to serving every member of the community equitably.

3. Mobile-Friendly Design

In an era dominated by smartphones and tablets, mobile-friendliness has become a buzzword and we now know that. Best municipal websites feature responsive designs that adapt seamlessly to various screen sizes and devices. Whether residents access the site from a desktop computer, smartphone, or tablet, they experience consistent usability and functionality.

Mobile-friendly design enhances user experience, which in turn increases visits and engagement, and ensures that vital information remains accessible anytime, anywhere.

4. Robust Security Measures

Protecting sensitive data and ensuring the integrity of online transactions are paramount for municipal websites. Best practices in cybersecurity are important to safeguard residents' privacy and maintain public trust.

Municipal websites employ encryption protocols, secure authentication methods, and regular security audits to reduce risks of data breaches and cyberattacks. By prioritizing security, municipalities demonstrate their commitment to safeguarding residents' personal information and maintaining the confidentiality of government operations.

5. Continuous Improvement and Innovation

The best municipal websites are not static entities; they evolve in response to changing needs and technological advancements. Regular updates, user feedback mechanisms, and ongoing usability testing drive continuous improvement. Municipalities embrace innovation by integrating new features, adopting emerging technologies, and engaging with digital tools for digital transformation in the community.

By staying abreast of industry trends and best practices, municipal websites remain relevant, efficient, and indispensable tools for community engagement and service delivery.

Municipal websites are more than just digital platforms; they are dynamic engines of community empowerment, accessibility, and innovation. By embodying the principles of effective communication, accessibility, mobility, and security, these websites elevate the standard of public service and strengthen the bond between residents and their local government. 
As communities start to embrace the digital age more and more, investing in the development and bettering of your municipal website is a long term investment into the community.

Town Web services are approved for use with ARPA funds!