Counties and municipalities work closely on many fronts, but our recent survey – What’s Next in Digital Communications for Local Governments – reveals several key differences in the way they each approach digital transformation, their missions, and how they interact with their residents.
Most counties manage services – such as justice and public safety systems – that are less visible and immediate than municipal services like recreational programs, trash collection and community events. Because of this, both cities and counties believe their websites are “essential” or “important” to their overall communications strategies. However, municipalities place a higher importance on their website. In fact, there was a consistent difference in which communication channels they rated to be the “most effective”, showing counties are much slower in embracing websites and social media as tools for digital communication.
While both cities and counties have an integral role in building healthy, vibrant and safe communities, counties serve distinct community needs. Job opportunities are the top area of interest among residents, but that’s where the similarities stop. County respondents identify planning and zoning issues to be a topic of interest, followed by emergency notifications. Municipal leaders, on the other hand, find their residents are more interested in special events and parks and recreation.
Understanding residents’ needs and expectations is just a piece of the puzzle. Cities and counties share a common goal to improve community engagement, but both face challenges in effectively doing so. Surprisingly, none of the county respondents rated their agency as currently “outstanding” in effective citizen engagement, and just 8% and 9% of city and county respondents, respectively, said their websites are “outstanding” in serving their communities and allowing visitors to conduct business online.
This is likely why more than half of all county participants (63%) identified citizen engagement as a top area for expansion in 2017. The integral role that websites play in effective and successful engagement strategies likely accounts for the fact that website upgrade was ranked second.
At its core, engagement is closely tied to analytics. Understanding the data captured from your website can paint a greater and clearer picture of how residents interact with your content. You can then use these insights to adjust or update your website to better meet the needs and expectations of your visitors.
However, nearly one-quarter (24%) of county respondents said they never look at their website analytics, compared to 18% of city participants. While half of all respondents say they “sometimes” adjust their web strategies based on site metrics, it’s essential to do so often so you can assess the effectiveness of your current web strategies and know when it’s time to make adjustments.
In the U.S. today, many citizens struggle to access their local government websites to pay utility bills, reserve facilities, and weigh-in on community issues because of a disability or the use of screen readers. To address this, an update has been made to the current Section 508 standards. All entities who are part of or conduct business with the Federal government must comply with Section 508 by January 2018.
While nearly all respondents (98%) believed web accessibility would have a “significant impact” on local government by 2020, 1 in 3 county leaders have “no knowledge” of accessibility guidelines, compared to 1 in 4 city leaders. The new deadline may prompt agencies to look at their existing sites and evaluate their internal accessibility plans soon rather than later.
Download the complete 2017 survey report to learn more about the state of digital communications in local government.