Yes, it's closing in on Halloween, and you know what that means: hordes of sugar-crazed younglings will come banging on your door demanding even more sugar. The best part is the parents are standing back there, smiling as their progeny shake you down for treats.
I got 'em last year, though. I gave them full bottles of Mountain Dew on the condition that they chug them right there on my porch. You are welcome, and good luck getting to sleep with your little Frankenstein or Fairy Princess ricocheting off the walls.
Alas, the above has NOTHING to do with government websites; quite honestly, it just felt so good to write. Now, to the subject at hand. Taking your government websites from spooky to spiffy in a few simple steps. I'd say take notes, but everything is already written here, so...never mind, I just pulled my brain.
STEP 1: ANALYZE YOUR SITE
Look carefully and critically at your site. Ask your friends, your neighbors, the janitor, anyone to go and use your site. Ask them specific questions like: How easy is it to find items? Is the layout easy to follow? Did the links work? ... questions that you really need to answer.
You may know your site like the back of your hand (Huh, that's weird. How long has that wart been on the back of my hand?) but you need to know that the folks who are using it CAN use it to its fullest potential.
STEP 2: SCORE YOUR SITE
CivicPlus offers the 6 Stages of Digital Community Engagement assessment tool. Use this tool to determine whether your website content and website functionality are ghoulish or grand. Go to the site, answer a few simple questions and then sit back and await your score. You will get a rating from 1 (Static) to 6 (Fully Engaged) and then comes the next decision. You can go one of two ways:
STEP 3A: DO NOTHING
That's what I wrote. Just sit there and let the digital world pass your government websites by. Don't worry about anyone being able to engage with their government through the website; that's why you have an office. And if they can't get there during business hours, well, there's always email or regular mail.
If you picked this option, then congratulations: you've managed to scare even ME. The more practical response would be:
STEP 3B: REDESIGN, REVAMP, REVITALIZE
You have to work with a proven partner. Shop around, ask around, look around. Take a look at some of the government websites CivicPlus has created. Ask yourself, "What do I want people to be able to do on my site? Watch council meetings live? Search agendas? Pay bills?"
When you have a good, strong list, take it out and show it to vendors. Ask tough questions and get good answers. If you don't get good answers, you've just voted someone off the island.
When you have a couple of vendors left, get even MORE specific. You should be able to ask for specific examples of what you want to see and they should point you to it.
For example, if you ask about streaming media, a CivicPlus rep could point you to Roanoke Valley Television, an award-winning website and a great example of incorporation of streaming media.
If you were to ask for an example of citizen engagement, perhaps a different rep would point you to Castle Rock, Colorado, as a site that has a great deal of citizen engagement tools. It was so good, it even got a mention on a national government website.
Then, when you have addressed all the things you want in your site, hire the proper people to put together a robust, attractive and extremely functional site. Put your brand-spanking new website out there for the masses to examine (and hopefully adore). After a brief period where you bask in the "new website smell" of your optimized online presence, you still have one more vital step. And that is...
STEP 4: ASSESS IT AGAIN
That's right, it's time to ask those same folks from Step 1 to go back to the site and try it out again. Ask what they like and what they don't like. Hopefully, the rebuilt site is easier to get around and full of up-to-date content.
If it isn't quite to your liking, go back to the vendor and have them tweak it until it's to your liking. After all, it's YOUR website, your "storefront," your digital front porch to the world. It should look exactly like you want it to look. If it doesn't, hold someone's feet to the fire (not literally; that's illegal) until you get it looking just right. Make sure you can update it easily and when you want to, not when someone else can get around to it.
There you have it. Easy, right? Yes, it will take some effort and time, but all good things come to those who wait. You want to take your website from spooky to spiffy, just follow those steps and you should be set. If you need any more from me, I'll be at the store - stocking up on Mountain Dew for Halloween.
If you have any questions or concerns (or you want to know just how high a 6-year old can bounce on one bottle of Dew) leave me a comment below.