Everybody, whether they like it or not, needs to call on their council at some time or another, and these days the obvious contact point is via the web.
So it’s imperative that local governments are able to develop and support an online presence that meets their electorate's various needs.
In order to be useful, council websites have to combine a range of public information and online tools that can be viewed easily from all common devices, which now includes tablets and smartphones.
Depending on where they are and who's in charge, some do it better than others, and we've discovered some shining, critically-acclaimed examples.
Warringah Council, NSW
The site integrates more than 35 different platforms and businesses including Glen Street Theatre, four libraries, an aquatic centre and extensive planning and development information.
“The site features all the tools and information you need for living, working and playing in Warringah and it adapts to whatever device you are using, making it the best possible user experience,” says Warringah’s group manager of marketing and communications, Graham Middleton.
It also features increased integration of the Council’s data and services, including libraries and planning information, and there are also plans for people to be able to look at real-time financial data on Council’s operations.
City of Austin, Texas
The site was completely redesigned in 2011, using existing City staff and local contractors, and was eventually launched in January 2012.
The site is managed in-house, with staff continually maintaining and making improvements based on ongoing feedback from the community and more than 100 departmental employees.
“The site is a showcase for our efforts on transparency, creativity and agile development,” says Stephen Elkins, the City of Austin's chief information officer. “We’re not going to stop our continuing improvements to the website or our open government efforts – in fact we’re just getting started.”
City of New Orleans
New Orleans' website is one of only a handful of American local government websites to have been given an A+ rating by renowned technology publication Computerworld's Report Card: The Best E-Government Sites, along with Fresno, Tampa, Huntsville, Chandler, Augusta and Beaverton.
The Report Card assessed each site based on 25 features across seven categories: usability, citizen responsiveness, accessibility for disabled visitors, information tools, online procurement, job opportunities, and interactive permits and payments.
A visit to the NOLA site will show you why it is rated so highly by tech experts – it's simple and intuitive, with menus directing residents, visitors and business owners to the information most relevant to each group, as well as easy to find contact information and a vast array of news items applicable to all parties.