Upanup has served over 60 municipalities across North America. Our clients continuously want to know what other cities, towns, regions, districts, etc., are providing their communities through digital solutions. This includes digitizing tasks and creating online self-service options for their users. Below we have listed some common trends we have seen across North American municipalities. (Sign up for our quarterly newsletter to stay in the know of industry trends.)
1. User experience research
Municipalities are taking the time and budget to conduct user experience (UX) research. This can include surveys, analytics, interviews, focus groups, tree testing, usability tests, and more. Users are key to understanding pain points and making improvements to your website. Therefore, ensuring users have the opportunity to provide feedback is imperative. For example, see the Town of Okotoks' (AB) Report It page where users can report issues, request services or repairs, or provide feedback at any time. In addition to increasing user satisfaction, incorporating tools such as forms will create internal efficiencies and reduce time spent on the phone with staff.
Provincial governments are taking steps to improve web accessibility across Canada through legislation such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), Accessible British Columbia Act, and the Accessibility for Manitobans Act. As a result, municipalities are focusing more on accessibility and ensuring they meet the requirements. Municipalities are also implementing third-party tools so even more people can access and understand their websites. For example, the City of Abbotsford (B.C.) integrated ReachDeck into their website so users can use additional tools to navigate and understand the site.
3. Community engagement
Municipalities are looking to engage with their community online and websites are becoming increasingly interactive. User engagement can include surveys, polls, contests, forums, question and answer (Q&A) sections, live chats, subscriptions, feedback forms, and more. For example, the City of Pitt Meadows has a website feedback form and a quick one-click "was this page helpful?" survey question at the bottom of each page of their site. Additionally, the Town of the Blue Mountains has incorporated a community engagement tool to enable residents to get involved and stay up to date on new projects through features like the project status bar and online engagement opportunities (see the tool in action below). Sign up here to receive updates about our new engagement tool coming in summer 2022.
4. Custom experiences
Most municipalities have multiple user groups such as residents, businesses, and visitors. There has been an increase in audience-based dashboards with curated links to let different user types quickly access the information that is most relevant to them. This approach follows sitemap best practices and streamlines navigation by the audience. For example, see the District of 100 Mile House's (B.C.) website and its curated content for residents, businesses, and visitors.
5. Unique tools and features
Many municipalities across Canada are taking advantage of grants (e.g. the Ontario Modernization Grant) and other opportunities to prioritize digital solutions and tools to modernize their websites. User expectations are always evolving so websites must be continuously improved. The following tools are being implemented more and more on municipal websites in North America:
Itinerary tools—The City of Quesnel (B.C.) implemented a "Plan My Trip" feature on their new tourism website, tourismquesnel.com. This tool allows users to filter accommodations, restaurants, activities, and events and then save, print, or share their custom itinerary. This provides users with an engaging, relevant, interactive, and accessible experience that encourages people to visit the City. Additionally, for local visitors or those only passing through for a day or two, the City of Quesnel (B.C.) included a suggested itineraries feature on the Quesnel Tourism website. Users answer questions about the season of their visit, duration of stay, and type of trip they are looking for, and an itinerary will be populated automatically.
- Tax calculators—To create efficiencies for users and provide them with valuable information in a timely manner, many municipalities are adding tax estimator tools to their websites. For example, see the Town of Clearview's (ON) tax estimator and City of Kamloops (B.C.) tax calculator. These tools are easy for users to navigate, allowing them to simply enter their property assessment and property classification to get the correct tax estimate. A breakdown of tax rates and tax dollar allocation is then displayed to the user in a visually appealing format. Tax calculators are well received by citizens as it completes all calculations for them and displays information in a clear and understandable way that can be shared or saved.
- Live meeting pop-ups—To encourage engagement and involvement for their citizens, municipalities are looking for new ways to gain viewers for their Council meetings. The Town of the Blue Mountains (ON) has a pop-up feature that is enabled when there is a live Council meeting in progress and encourages users to join the live stream.
- Neighbourhood profiles—Regional Districts serve a vast array of neighbourhoods, each with its own services, facilities, news, etc. The Regional District of North Okanagan (B.C.) incorporated individual pages on their website for each of their neighbourhoods, and citizens can now use their site, rdno.ca, as a resource to find specific information. Additionally, this content approach creates efficiencies for the District's internal team, as each profile dynamically pulls information from other areas of the site using a simple backend tagging system.
Municipalities have been embracing new tools and techniques in recent years to better connect with their audiences, and this pattern will likely only accelerate as citizens become more mobile and savvy. Staying on top of digital trends and finding solutions tailored to municipalities is key to meeting users' needs and expectations online, and keeping them returning to your site as a valuable source of information. Get in touch with our experienced team if you would like to incorporate some of these trends into your website.