Building Resident, Business, and Visitor Centric Websites
The average lifespan of a website nowadays is 3-5 years, sometimes less depending on a variety of factors including population, budget, service delivery, and rapid technology industry changes.
Traditionally, websites have been considered “static” communications, however, nowadays they are becoming highly interactive and useful tools for residents, businesses, and visitors of your municipality. Problem is, most websites are built for the wrong audience – an internal one who shouldn’t be using the website at all.
Think about it, how often do you hear someone within your organization come to you asking where a document is on the website because that’s where they always go to view it? I bet it’s more than one time. Now, how often do you receive comments from your external audiences that your website is difficult to navigate, and hard to use? This is why external engagement when you’re building (or rebuilding) the municipality’s website.
Let the User Build The Tool
The easiest way to ensure your municipal website is serving those who it is intended to is to let them take the lead, through an engagement process, on building it.
When you empower your users, by facilitating engagement, you are ensuring they will see the value in the tool being built; and what better way to do that than by asking them what exactly it is that they need from it?
All too often, sitemaps for a website are constructed internally. Department heads will gather around and draw out a map of where they think their items should go. They are looking at the map from an internal point of view and not necessarily from an external user’s standpoint, and this can create big problems when it comes time to launch the site.
Of course, your internal audience is a key contributor to the project, after all, they are generally the experts and will be aware of the common requests, complaints, etc. received in relation to their department. You’ll want to draw on this knowledge and gather input from them from this perspective, but otherwise, they should have very little say in the actual footprint and mapping of the website.
An important point to add is, if you engage the users of the site to inform you of what their needs are, you’ll also increase the likelihood that they’ll actually use the tool, and support the ongoing maintenance and upgrading of the site. It’s much easier to convince your SLT and Council of the need for appropriating tax dollars to a website when your residents, businesses, and visitors see the value in it.