Nowadays, websites are the most accessible port of call for the public to get the information they need from an organization, be it commercial or government. In the legislative domain, one of the main objectives of a legislative website is to make it easier for the public to be aware, engage with, and partake in the legislative process.
By making information readily available and accessible to everyone, the internet has been a game-changer for transforming the ease at which the public can become involved in legislative matters. In the past, before legislatures and governments had websites, it was much more difficult for citizens to get the information they wanted or see the processes involved in bringing a law into effect, which resulted in people feeling distanced from the legislative process. To fully engage and inform the public, it’s crucial to have a website that connects the entire legislative landscape. With that in mind, it should be a priority to ensure that your legislative website serves its users well.
The overarching focus of a legislative website must be on how well – and easily – it facilitates civic engagement with the legislature and promotes openness and transparency within the legislative process. Here are the top five considerations when it comes to creating a good legislative website.
Good design incorporates how well information is presented and organized, how effectively navigation and menu systems are implemented to aid the user journey, whether it is built in a responsive way to enable full optimization on mobile and tablets, and whether the imagery that is used complements the overall look and feel of the website.
It is rarely an issue that content is not available. Rather, it is a question of how accessible that information is for the user – in other words, the ease at which that information can be accessed, and the level of understanding users will need to be able to decode menu structures and terminology to access the information. What is important with regards to content is the layers of value a state can add to its content. How can it be enriched with metadata and indexed to allow for better search and retrieval for users? How can it be enhanced with greater hyperlinking between related content – for example, can bill statuses be linked to both timestamps on a video and a journal page number? The level of detail that is accessible to users is important – it is satisfying to see states providing the full gamut of legislative outputs to their constituents.
RSS feeds and file formats available are details that must not be overlooked. It is advantageous for a legislature to publish their data in a machine-readable format. Whether or not legislatures offer APIs and web services for third-parties looking to develop applications based on the legislative data is an important detail.
Now, more than ever, as the digital landscape evolves, it is crucial that transparency remains a key component of any legislative website. In essence, a good legislative website needs to make it easy for a constituent to engage with the legislature online – the concept of a virtual statehouse. How does a website do this well? By addressing the following key questions: how easy is the video to access, how easy is it to connect with your representative, how easy is it to view amendments and voting records, and how easy is it to navigate and use the website?
We recently undertook an extensive survey of all 50 US state legislative websites, assessing each website using over 135 metrics – from design to content to features and transparency. It was a comprehensive survey and the results are quite eye-opening. We’ll be publishing them soon – stay tuned.
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