In this era of demand for transparency of large, complex and powerful institutions, nothing a public agency does can serve that demand better, easier, quicker and more consistently than an information-rich, well designed website. Yet too many observable today are little more than billboards—leaving the visitor to click around in search of some predictably sought public information, to say nothing of familiarization with the most responsible humans behind the pixels. Agencies of a certain size and resources can provide a site with all kinds of whizbang tools and capabilities, but what should be the basics of largely static information that can be inexpensively provided and kept current, and how easy should it be to find those fundamentals?
Without attempting to resolve that debate, CalAware offers one checklist to use in determining how well a government agency—particularly but not only a local agency—meets the most predictable desires of most visitors, however much its own desires to push certain information to the public are satisfied beyond these basics. Our Public Agency Website Content and Usability Standards should be useful in comparing city, county, school or special district websites, for example. Readers are welcome to suggest improvements to this yardstick as they wish via firstname.lastname@example.org, and they will be included in an updated set of standards.
To use the standards, add one point if each blue or green item is present, then add (or subtract) a subjective point if a first time visitor would find it easier (or harder) to find the information, then at the end add points for extra usability features such as searchability and navigability.
The fact of a 100-point scheme does not mean this is a test, and we’re confident that no existing site comes close to even 90 percent. And so while somewhat crude and arbitrary, the standards do permit a measure of how much a site’s visitors are knowledgeable about the agency—and how effortlessly—before ever picking up the phone or going to email.