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New and Noteworthy Washington Local Government Website Features

March 21, 2014 by Byron Katsuyama
Category: Information Technology

New and Noteworthy Washington Local Government Website Features

I have been a long-time observer of how local governments are using their websites to enhance the delivery of local government services and their interactions with citizens. It has been fascinating to see how local governments have embraced the Web as a place to literally build a completely new forum for citizen-to-government interactions. This new Web-based approach is characterized by a radical increase in the amount of information that is available to citizens, many new opportunities to engage directly with citizens on policy issues through social media and other forms of web-enabled communication, and a host of new online services that offer unprecedented convenience, access, and efficiency. Today, local government websites have become "the place” where most citizens interact with their local governments.


Local government websites have come a long way from the early days when they functioned simply as electronic bulletin boards where citizens could read and download public documents but not much else.  Over the past 20 years or so, most local government websites have advanced well beyond their early beginnings as electronic bulletin boards, adding many new interactive features, allowing financial transactions, permit applications and tracking, streaming live and archived video coverage of council/commission meetings, and many other helpful new features.

 I recently took a virtual tour of a large number of Washington local government websites to get an idea of what might be new and noteworthy.  Here are just a few of  the most notable features that caught my eye.  

“Mega Menus” Improve Site Navigation


So called “mega menus,” which have actually been around for a few years, are now becoming a lot more prevalent on local government websites. Mega menus are drop-down menus featuring large panels that can extend the entire width of a particular page, containing links that can be grouped and displayed in columns with headings and other graphics to improve website navigation. I like them. They are a welcome change from standard drop-down menus that have sometimes become too long and difficult to read. Your site’s visitors must first be able to find the resources they are looking for before they can benefit from them. Take a look at these examples (you have to hover over the links in the main navigation bars to see the mega menus):


Notify Me


More sites are incorporating communication features that allow citizens to sign up to receive  email or text message notifications for a wide variety of purposes such as special project milestones, council agendas, job announcements, special events, etc. Many of the examples I saw were on sites that were built by CivicPlus, a company that assists local governments with building their websites. These tools offer powerful ways for local governments to keep citizens informed about the issues they care most about through a variety of devices including smart phones and tablets. Here are a few examples:


Open Data

 I’ve been hearing a lot about “open data” to create greater transparency and citizen engagement,  but had not seen many examples of Washington local governments that were offering access to large amounts of local government generated data. Here are a few that I found on my recent tour:  

I am sure that I have missed many open data sites. Please help me fill in the blanks by adding a comment below.


Interactive Crime Maps

 Another type of open data involves crime data. More local governments are offering interactive crime maps that allow citizens to view various types of law enforcement incidents and responses. The interactive features allow users to view all or a selected list of incident types:    

How do I? I want to ...


Many sites are using helpful “How do I?” or “I want to ... " menus/pages that provide site users with quick access to their most frequently requested services. These types of menus are far superior to site navigation strategies that require users to access services solely through department-based links. These have actually been around for a while, but I’m seeing more sites using this simple but effective approach (many of them powered by CivicPlus). Here are a few examples:


SeeClickFix - Citizen Action Request


More cities are offering pages that allow citizens to submit service requests, report problems, and make comments in one convenient location. The examples I found were part of SeeClickFix or CivicPlus:


I’m sure there are many more examples of these types of features. Add a comment with any links to similar services on your local government’s site.




Websites are visual media through which local governments have many opportunities to provide more engaging content. Photo galleries are a great way to show off community events, public art, and other assets. Photos can be used liberally throughout your site to reflect your community’s character, natural beauty, and style. Some communities have posted promotional videos as part of their economic development strategy:


It’s still fascinating to follow the latest developments on local government websites. Even 25 years in, I still have the sense that we are just beginning to see what might be possible. Local governments are continually adding new features to enhance services, expand outreach, and increase access. These are just a few of the features that caught my eye. Please add your own comments and observations on the latest and greatest local government website features.

Photo courtesy of medithIT.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Byron Katsuyama

Byron began work at the Center as a Research Assistant in July 1978. He holds a B.A. degree in Political Science from the University of Washington and an M.P.A. from the University of Washington's Evan’s School of Public Policy and Governance. After completing his M.P.A., Byron joined MRSC's consulting staff as a Public Policy and Management Consultant concentrating on municipal administration and policy analysis. Byron is responsible for research in such areas as emerging local government issues, best practices, strategic planning, performance measurement, and local government management. In addition to his consulting duties, Byron also maintains the "Focus" section of MRSC's website and is editor of our "In Focus" and "Ask MRSC" e-newsletters. He also coordinates our HR, Planning, Finance, Government Performance, and Council/Commission Advisors. In his own community of Kirkland, Byron also served for eight years as a member of the city's planning commission. Byron is a member of the Washington City/County Management Association (WCMA) and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA).

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