March 19, 2015

How to Build Better City Websites

How does a city uniformly support, inform and empower residents? The solution starts with a city’s website.

Depending on the city, the focus might start with residents’ most requested services. Or it might be job opportunities or recent policy changes. Unfortunately, the user experience can be inconsistent from one city to another. There isn’t a Best Practice guideline to follow.

The Local Digital Services Census is tackling the issue. Created by the Code for America Tech Team, the census surveys the quality and usability of the 10 most-searched for city services. Anyone can help with the census by following a simple rubric that “scores” a city. At the moment, 36 cities are on the census, with 237 services assessed.

I was introduced to the census while attending the fourth annual CodeAcross. The international event was a productive weekend of civic hacking. I joined a team that took part in reviewing San Francisco, CA. We looked at metrics that walked through navigation, search, and accessibility. We became our users and navigated the city’s website. Our to-do list? Cross checking tasks that answer questions like:

  • Does the site come up in the first page of results on an internet search?
  • Is the webpage with service or information mobile friendly?
  • Is the service available in the major languages used in your city

San Francisco came in at number 7, tied with Sacramento, CA and Newport News, VA. Palo Alto, CA gets a near perfect score. Scores are displayed in a table that fluctuates as new ratings are submitted. By seeing an overview of all 36 cities, emergent patterns appear. For example, most cities do an excellent job at contacting officials. Yet, most cities could improve channels to filing public safety reports.

Many hands lighten the heavy load

Why should we care? I’m reminded of a Haitian proverb, “many hands lighten the heavy load”. Inherent in municipalities are understaffed resources; to conduct a thorough census of a city website can be a Herculean task. When we all take a few moments, it adds up. By participating in the census, we are investing in our city: assessing services and creating more transparency around what’s working well and what can improve.

What does this look like in practice? GOV.UK is an example of simplicity and uniformity in displaying online government information. It doesn’t matter if you’re a resident of London or Lancashire, users get the same experience when going online. Created by the Government Digital Service, GOV.UK  “provides a single point of access to HM Government services”. The website will replace hundreds of individual government websites and migrate them into a unifying experience by 2014. The redesign has garnered much praise and has won notable design awards.

At Exygy, we take pride in  working with cities on projects that benefit residents

At Exygy, we take pride in  working with cities on projects that benefit residents and cut bureaucracy. Starting with San Francisco’s inaugural Open Data legislation, Exygy built a showcase highlighting  entrepreneurial open data apps.

The Smart PDF project streamlined workflow for submitting digital forms that helped many agencies. HR Forum enabled the Department of Human Resources to align around a central platform that highlighted  training resources, documents , videos, and classes. Exygy has been a proponent of community wifi, setting up wireless links to bridge the digital divide.

Want to learn more about how Exygy might help your city with their online presence? Drop us a line and say hi. Wonder how your city ranks in the census? Want to take part in helping local government websites improve? Help contribute to the Local Digital Services Census

Written by Wendy Fong

What’s a Rich Text element?

H1 example

H3 example

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

Static and dynamic content editing

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

How to customize formatting for each rich text

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

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