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Why ‘buying local’ isn’t always the best option for local government websites

Posted on February 19, 2020

City leaders sometimes tell us they use a local website vendor for their city websites.

While this is commendable — as any ‘buy local’ effort is — it is often a short-sighted approach to delivering high-quality, sustainable and scalable digital government services.

‘Local’ doesn’t equal ‘digital government expertise’

Local website firms generally focus on non-government digital service offerings, primarily for local businesses and non-profit organizations. This is understandable, as there are more of these than there are local governments, and every web business needs a steady stream of customers to survive.

The challenge with primarily serving businesses and non-profit organizations is that a core understanding of local governments needs is often lost on non-government focused website firms. Regardless of whether a firm is global or local, general website expertise doesn’t equate to digital government expertise, and this is an important distinction to note.

Governments need more than a generic website

As the folks at UK’s Government Digital Service say, “build digital services, not websites.”

While we refer to them as websites, ‘government websites’ must raise the level of service standards that standard commercial and nonprofit websites provide.

Most websites, particularly commercial ones, are marketing-oriented. They typically have nice slideshows with attractive photos and sometimes a blog to post the latest news. They advertise services, feature key customers and generally have just a few pages of information. It’s often a very static experience, needing little maintenance after its initial launch.

But local government websites should be viewed through the lens of providing a holistic user experience for their communities.

Key components of this include:

  • Accessibility
  • Privacy
  • Mobility
  • Performance
  • Transparency

They should also take into account the need to truly empower local government officials who manage these digital services. These skills upgrades are beyond just the delivery of a website.

These include:

  • Awareness of digital government best practices
  • Unfettered access to administrative tools to manage and update the website
  • Continuous technical, software updates and maintenance

Government has broader needs beyond just an online marketing brochure. The local government website is a digital city hall and an opportunity to truly serve your community 24/7/365.

When thinking about local government websites in this context, it’s best to think beyond just local, as the opportunities to holistically serve communities is endless.

Lost opportunities

There are opportunity costs to having a generic local government website. If local government leaders aren’t effectively trained or don’t have the tools to maintain digital services, their websites will quickly become irrelevant. If these websites don’t take into account the unique standards digital government services must provide, their communities will lack access and lose trust in government leaders and the institution of government itself.

Empower the local you

As a public service leader, you’re challenged with delivering government services and information to many people. Mostly likely you have limited resources to do this.

Fortunately, there are local government software companies focused specifically on ensuring public service leaders have access to the best tools modern technology has to offer. While they may not be local, they empower governments to serve their communities in ways they never before imagined.

Supporting local businesses is important for the sustainability of our communities. In today’s world, website firms are no longer ‘local,’ as they can serve communities from anywhere in the world.

If you’re a local government leader, when evaluating how you want to serve digitally, it may serve your communities best to think beyond geography.

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