If two hundred years ago the face of every city was considered its market, central cathedral, and cemetery, today its website can tell a lot. Thanks to the websites, we learn how residents live, how the government works, and in general get a lot of useful information even about those cities that we have never visited.

Every year, within the framework of the Transparent cities program, TI Ukraine publishes Transparency and Accountability Rankings of Ukrainian cities. For preparation, our team studies the official websites of city councils, analyzes the information published on them, and takes into consideration the feedback of residents.

Over the years of research, we have found that local government websites are one of the main channels of communication between the government and society, and their traffic rate is growing from year to year. What should one pay attention to when developing a practical and accessible website?

First of all, the website should have a fast and easy-to-use content management system (CMS). This will make updating your website quick and easy.

Furthermore, the website must be adaptive to facilitate browsing on mobile devices.

Third, the website must have clear navigation to make information search intuitive.

How to create a website that meets these criteria? Let’s try and figure it out.

Over the years of research, we have found that local government websites are one of the main channels of communication between the government and society, and their traffic rate is growing from year to year.

Finished products and solutions to save resources

Even though we do not have a separate design code for official websites of local governments, you can focus on the requirements of the Cabinet’s resolution on the design code for official websites of executive authorities. The requirements specified in this resolution are also quite adaptive for the municipal context.

To streamline your websites in accordance with modern requirements, one can download ready-made web elements and not spend money on developing a design from scratch, special layout, and programming. For example, ready-made web elements and font sets are freely available on the site of the Design System of State Websites of Ukraine. There you can also learn how to conduct user surveys, fill the website with high-quality content, and adhere to the principle of website accessibility for different user groups.

In general, the number of resources that provide recommendations or offer ready-made templates and plugins for working with websites is gradually growing. For example, you can use low-cost open-source software such as WordPress or Joomla. The comprehensive use of these systems in the future will depend on the knowledge and capabilities of IT specialists responsible for the development of municipal websites.

Why should municipal authorities implement such solutions? First of all, because the number of users of government websites will increase when the quality and ease of use of the service increases. This allows to build trusting relationships with residents.

In addition, the use of such systems will facilitate the work of designers, simplify the development, and reduce the cost of upgrading municipal websites. This means that people responsible for website development on the part of local authorities will be able to focus on the effectiveness of providing electronic services, rather than on their visual form.

User comfort is a priority for municipal websites

Visitors to local government websites should all potentially be representatives of the local community. This means that such websites should be equally accessible to different types of users, including persons hard-of-hearing, those with low vision, physical, or articulation disabilities.

For example, in Ukraine, the problem of accessibility of websites for blind people or those with low vision remains widespread. As part of the city accountability assessment, our team evaluated city council websites for the availability of a version for users with low vision, and only 16 out of 50 cities provided such versions on their websites.

According to international recommendations WCAG 2.0, site developers should consider the following points:

  • Users should be able to double the text size without using auxiliary tools, and have access to all the information and features on the website.
  • Contrast the text relative to the background so that users can easily read published texts. You can check the website using Contrast Ratio calculator (plain text must have a minimum ratio of 4.5:1).
  • If the website contains video with audio, you need to add subtitles. This allows users who are hard-of-hearing to use the site comfortably.
  • For the needs of people with low vision, you should use soft, simple colors. It is also better to avoid flashing images.

The WCAG 2.0 recommendations themselves are formulated in English, however you can find adapted instructions in Ukrainian at the link.

Visitors to local government websites should all potentially be representatives of the local community. This means that such websites should be equally accessible to different types of users, including persons hard-of-hearing, those with low vision, physical, or articulation disabilities.

Feedback as a guide for improving your website

Developing a user-friendly website is impossible without taking into account the opinion of direct users. You should research the needs of users both at the start of development and during the period of website’s operation.

Research can be conducted through questionnaires or organizing focus groups. Before the start, you should outline the main list of questions and define the main goals of the study. Based on this, you can create the most successful sample model and research method.

In addition, you can also use professional technical tools, such as heat maps, to analyze user behavior on the site or reports on responding to the requests for information that local self-government bodies are required to publish in accordance with the Law of Ukraine “On Access to Public Information.” 

Thanks to such research, you can identify the main trends: which sections of the site are the most popular, how the number of visitors changes over time, and how easily the requested information is searched. You have no idea how useful this information can be!

To avoid illusory ideas about the website’s usability for certain users, you should engage feedback from people of different ages, genders, socio-economic status, and educational level. What is more, don’t be afraid of negative feedback. After all, it is a comprehensive understanding of the needs of residents that will allow you to identify possible barriers in accessing information, difficulties in navigation, and existing obstacles for people with disabilities.

Scanned documents ≠ open data

As part of the annual rankings of Ukrainian cities, our team works on the availability of information on the official websites of city councils. In our work, we have come across a wide variety of interpretations of the concept of “open data” — from PDF versions of published documents to handwritten ones.

Here, we would like to remind you that open data is considered to be published in a machine-readable format and falls under automatic reading and computer processing. In other words, the appropriate formats for such materials are CSV, JSON, and XML formats, and just a scan or image no longer meets these requirements. Moreover, they are extremely inconvenient in use.

As you can see, it is very difficult to overestimate the importance of a convenient and accessible interface for official municipal websites. Residents use them to solve important life issues — enroll their child in kindergarten, get information about subsidies or benefits, support public projects, or initiate the creation of their own. And vice versa, due to the improper operation of such websites, residents cannot receive the money they are entitled to on time, or find out about the licenses required to start their business.

We hope that more and more new websites will be developed in accordance with modern requirements, and existing ones will be gradually updated to become more convenient for residents.

For its part, the Transparent cities program team is open to cooperation with all municipalities. We are always ready to help those who want to improve their websites, become more transparent and accountable not only nominally, but also in practice.

Developing a user-friendly website is impossible without taking into account the opinion of direct users. You should research the needs of users both at the start of development and during the period of website’s operation. 

Source: lb.ua