This is a guest post by our partners at CityBase. CityBase makes government and utilities easier for everyone. Their technology helps people find, apply, and pay for public services — and helps staff manage those interactions. CityBase is one of our key partners assisting governments and public services in building remarkably useful websites for cities, counties, and utilities in the United States.
The remainder of this article is written from the perspective of Adam Godfrey, Product Manager, and Elizabeth Ress, Marketing Director, CityBase.
We’ve made the case before that government websites have different standards they must achieve in order to be truly useful. Unlike an eCommerce experience or a streaming service, or even a nonprofit institution, city and county governments must serve everyone. It’s a big challenge, and many in local government are taking the opportunity of a digitally accelerated constituency to create digital city halls that will better serve people during and after the pandemic.
Our work with clients across the U.S. to launch government websites, digital services, and online payments has taught us a few lessons on the unique needs of a public sector digital experience — for both their end customers, as well as the staff that maintains them. Here are a few insights that have guided our content management product enhancements and sparked our partnership with GraphCMS to provide better technology solutions to public sector clients.
The best content management systems for governments should:
1. Diffuse responsibility and maintain consistency
Local government includes a wide range of departments and agencies that oversee different functions and constituent services. A city or county government has dozens of departments like the Treasurer, Animal Care and Control, Public Works, Courts, etc. A well-oiled government website should enable departments to keep their information up to date, with the goal of keeping information display consistent and easy to navigate.
To accomplish this, governments should choose a content management system (CMS) that has powerful user permissions for who can contribute, edit, and publish content to the site, as well as for which department a person can publish new content. Some team members may have permission to make edits across the website, like a person in the city’s Information Technology agency, while others may only be able to publish content tied to a single agency. These granular permissions will ensure that everyone has the functionality they need without access to the information that is unrelated to their role.
The government CMS should also lock in standards for consistency across departments. This can be achieved by simple, consistent content models that clearly reflect the aims of each project. No department should be a visual island on a government website. Customers shouldn’t have to decipher the unique hierarchy of their city government in order to find and understand the information they seek.
Consistent information display — like having all “submit” buttons in green, for instance, or having all departmental contact information on the right-hand side of the page — helps reinforce familiarity and makes it easy to navigate a government website for all services, no matter which department oversees a task. The same should be true across both desktop views and mobile, maintaining consistency and locking in visual standards that feel familiar no matter what device a person uses to navigate their local government website.
2. Be easy to learn and use for non-developers
Since there are many different people maintaining content across a city or county government website, there will be people with varying levels of familiarity with content management systems. You don’t want an administrator in the Mayor’s Office needing to tap the city’s technology team every time they post a press release.
Just like the front-end of your website should be easy to navigate for diverse populations, the back-end should accommodate many users with different abilities. It should be intuitive, accessible, and allow for checks and balances. For instance, having a place for content to hang out in drafts before an editor approves it and publishes it to the site. Housing previous versions of a webpage natively to the CMS is also a good feature, making it easy to restore an earlier version of a page.
3. Enable timely universal or targeted updates
People go to their local government website to find important information and to get things done. A city’s CMS should eliminate any barriers to posting time-sensitive announcements immediately. Some announcements may need to be published citywide, like a storm safety alert. Others may need to post to a specific department and any services they oversee, like indicating a particular department is closed that day, or that the deadline to pay business taxes is imminent.
A flexible CMS enables governments to post immediate sitewide alerts or agency-specific alerts, all within the user’s control.
4. Provide intuitive, accessible modules for everyone to find what they need quickly
A centralized content library organized by module types enables cities to keep their website up to date and easy to navigate. For example, a CMS can provide standard modules for informational pages, activity pages, contact information, related services, and digital forms. Each of these modules has a standard look and feel.
Staff can focus on keeping content up-to-date by editing a module in one place to have it updated in every place that module appears. For instance, if the hours of operation change for a department, they only need to update that information in one place to have it appear on the landing pages for every service that department oversees, rather than updating each page individually.
For customers, modules make it easier to navigate through the website. This comes back to consistent information display — having a familiar, accessible way to get in touch, begin a form, submit a request, find related topics and services, etc., makes it easier for customers to get what they need from their government. Enabling multiple language translations for these modules further promotes access for all the populations you serve.
5. House all service and payment functionality on the official government website
As we mentioned earlier, people visit their government website to get things done. Constituents are learning about benefits they are entitled to, submitting a request to receive a service, or paying for things like a water bill, permit fee, or parking ticket. In most cases, customers are obligated to complete these tasks in order to stay in compliance.
Local governments can make it easier for their customers to stay in good standing by making it as simple as possible to submit a form or complete payments. An effective government CMS enables cities and counties to house all digital services and payment functionality native to their official website. This means that a customer can look up their water bill and pay by check or credit card in the same easy workflow. They can find the information they need about registering their business with the city, then fill out and submit the form without ever leaving their city’s website.
An effective government CMS helps build trust between a government and its constituents
A modern government website should act as a digital city hall. It should promote confidence and trust that a person can turn to their local government to find important, timely information about their community. It should be a conduit to important city services, allowing people to find what they need and immediately complete tasks.
An effective CMS makes it simple to present diverse information in a way that’s easy to understand and navigate. And most importantly, it provides an intuitive toolset for government staff to maintain a digital city hall.
Do you have a gov-tech challenge or need some advice on creating a digital city hall? Get in touch about working with CityBase and GraphCMS!