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Great Municipal Web Sites Are More than Just a Pretty Face

December 10, 2008 By

Everyone likes to be number 1, numero uno, the best. Just look at sports fans with their chants, cheers and giant foam fingers proudly pointing out the superiority of their team. Being the best has become not only an aspiration but in the age of global competition, a fixation and if, heaven forbid, we are not the best we certainly want to know who is.

Twelve years ago the Center for Digital Government (CDG) started the Best of the Web (BOW) contest to recognize and honor the best state and local government portals and Web sites based on their innovations, functionality and efficiencies. The companion Digital Government Achievement Awards (DGAA) spotlight outstanding contributions at the application and infrastructure level.

So what makes a great municipal Web site? It takes more than just a pretty electronic "face." It starts with functionality. If the site doesn't allow people to meaningfully interact and transact with government it is little more than an electronic bulletin board. Great Web sites provide functionality that supports easy to use, end-to-end transactions between citizens, businesses and governments.

The best are always looking for ways to innovate, to build upon and extend the investment they have already made. To be the best you have to be a leader and a bit of a risk taker, willing to try things that have not been done before.

The City of Las Vegas, Nev. ( showed it was the best among cities in the 2008 Best of the Web (BOW) competition. The Las Vegas portal presents information from the public's perspective with "plain language" and a good use of graphics to help navigation and an "I Want To" search engine. New services added this year include many searchable databases, payment of fees; RSS feeds; city Webinars and traffic camera feeds.

Oakland County, Michigan, ( was the top county in the 2008 BOW. Their portal now features several new Web 2.0 capabilities. The county has configured their own social networking community ( in order to integrate blogs and forums, and to establish an interactive communication "channel."

King County, Washington, was recognized with a DGAA in the government-to-government category for their creation of a regional Web-based security portal that provides single sign-on access to multiple systems and applications for over 4,000 police and criminal justice users at the local, state and federal level.

There are multiple communities within every community and Web sites are being used to create efficient and effective ways for government to interact even with those in special circumstances. For example, the Arapahoe County, Colo., Judicial Services Online Check In allows those under court ordered supervision a method of contacting the Judicial Services office for mandatory 'check ins' and updating their assigned officer which is a part of their program participation requirement.

Web sites have made it possible for communities to open government to their constituents, engage them in the processes of governance and provide a face that is available at every hour of every day. Communities across the country are learning first hand that the modern tools and technologies of communication and community building can and do make a very real difference in the quality of life their residents enjoy. We know where the most successful communities are, who they are and how they are doing it and we want to share that information.

Todd Sander is Deputy Director of the Center for Digital Government and Director of Digital Communities. He was formerly the Assistant City Manager and CIO for the City of Tucson, AZ.

Photo by Davina DeVries. Creative Commons License Attribution 2.0 Generic



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