Unsure if your local government website is resonating with citizens? If so, a new online tool may provide the information your city or county needs to fully engage with its audience.

Called the Six Stages of Digital Community Engagement, the evaluation consists of a detailed questionnaire that evaluates a government website’s communications features and measures the effectiveness of those methods. The tool then offers recommendations for how to improve. The assessment is free and can be used from the perspective of a government employee or a resident.

Developed by website designer CivicPlus, the engagement survey takes into consideration a variety of factors in its evaluation, including the frequency of website content updates and what online services are available. Once complete, the survey assigns one of six ratings to the site: “1” being “static” for basic online information being present to “6” for “fully engaged,” denoting a site that empowers citizens to be more involved in government issues.

“Quantifying a community’s level of engagement on the Web poses a challenge to government staff,” said Jesse Manning, vice president of CivicPlus. “That’s where the Six Stages of Digital Community Engagement tool can help. It’s a straightforward assessment of how well a local government is engaging citizens via its Web-based technology.”

Once the assessment is completed, participants can be emailed a copy of the survey’s findings, including:

  • a description of which stage their website falls into, and where it ranked within that stage;
  • an explanation of what’s required to master that particular stage;
  • the benefits that stage of engagement offers to citizens and government; and
  • recommendations for how the website can continue to climb the engagement ladder.

Castle Rock, Colo., was one of the early beta testers of the tool. In an interview with Government Technology, Karen McGrath, senior community relations officer for the city, said the assessment took approximately 15 minutes, with questions ranging form whether a local government website uses live video and social media, to more detailed planning questions.

McGrath called the tool a “report card” for cities and county Web teams.

“We scored ‘fully engaged’ on ours because we have video, social media and a transparency portal, so it was good,” McGrath said. “But had we fallen underneath that, it would have been a great assessment for us to look at areas and work on them.”

Avondale, Ariz., didn’t fare quite as well, achieving a “4” ranking as “receptive” — meaning the city is receiving input from citizens and facilitating dialog through its website, but the site isn’t quite involved in the decision-making process.

DeAnn Franklin, an employee in the Avondale’s Community Relations and Public Affairs department, said she took the assessment on a whim. It should be helpful in the future, she said, particularly as the city further develops its Web presence.

“It provided me a lot of insight on what we are doing and assured me we were on the right track with some things,” Franklin said. “But it also enlightened me on things we need to work on or things I never thought were about community engagement. I didn’t piece it together until I read the survey.”

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1998, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.