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New Open Source Initiative Highlights Flaws in State Government Websites

The assessment and educational tool offers insights and solutions for improving government web performance. Based on its criteria, many state and federal agencies have updated their sites.

The podcast cover image for this The Future in Contextepisode features an AI-generated image of a vintage console.
The podcast cover image for this The Future in Context (TFIC) episode features an AI-generated image of a vintage console for monitoring system performance. (DALL-E 3).
Listen to this episode on the player below or subscribe for free on YouTube or the podcast app of your choice — Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Audacy and Audible.

Report cards can be hard to take. While the good ones can bring praise and bragging rights, the bad ones can provide a sobering reminder of how things are actually going. There is some of both in a new open source platform called ScanGov, described as a digital government experience monitor.

Fretwell and Son.png
Fretwell and Son, Civic hackers and co-creators of ScanGov. (Photo: Emmett Fretwell)
ScanGov is the brainchild of technology entrepreneur Luke Fretwell and his son, Elias. It is the most ambitious project yet from the father-son civic hacking duo. (We met Elias in an earlier episode of TFIC when the then-14-year-old self-taught civic hacker was making sense of public data sets that were posted by public agencies with little regard to how they would be used.)

In this newly launched project, Fretwell and son have created an evaluation tool to monitor government websites for their attention to fundamental elements that undergird performance and trust. ScanGov assesses various web practices, scoring sites based on their metadata, URL configurations, site maps and robots.txt policies. Elias, now almost 16, explains that this project aims to highlight areas of improvement for government sites, encouraging adherence to best practices and ultimately making these websites more accessible and secure. Since its launch, ScanGov has garnered positive feedback from federal and state agencies, prompting many to update their sites based on the project’s criteria.

For his part, Luke emphasizes that the goal is to inspire behavioral change within public agencies by educating them on essential digital practices. The project started with metadata and has expanded to include other vital web elements, with plans for further enhancements like content security policies and accessibility checks. Although ScanGov reveals that most states and federal sites currently score poorly, the initiative is not about penalizing but rather about improving public digital services.


Here are the top five takeaways from this episode:

  1. Launch of ScanGov: Luke and Elias Fretwell have developed ScanGov, a project that evaluates government websites on basic web practices. The tool scores these websites based on factors such as meta tags, URL configurations, site maps and robots.txt policies to ensure they meet certain standards.
  2. Impact and Feedback: ScanGov has received positive feedback from various levels of government. The project aims to inspire behavioral change in public agencies by highlighting areas for improvement. The initiative has already led to numerous requests for score updates from government entities that have made necessary corrections.
  3. Current State of Government Websites: The initial results of ScanGov reveal that the majority of state government websites are failing to meet the basic standards assessed. Only six states received an A grade, while the average score for all states is 59 percent, equating to an F. This highlights significant room for improvement in how states manage their digital services.
  4. Educational Approach: The Fretwells emphasize that ScanGov is not just about pointing out deficiencies but also about educating government agencies on best practices. They provide detailed documentation and guidelines to help these entities understand and implement the necessary changes to improve their scores.
  5. Continuous Improvement and Future Plans: The project is designed to be iterative and responsive to feedback. New metrics and features will be added over time, including aspects like content security policies and adherence to the U.S. web design system. Additionally, there's a focus on making ScanGov adaptable for different levels of government, including counties, and providing guides for entities to set up their own versions of the tool.
Related Links to items referenced in the episode:

Our editors used ChatGPT 4.0 to summarize the episode in bullet form to help create the show notes. The main image for this story was created using DALL-E 3.
Paul W. Taylor is the Senior Editor of e.Republic Editorial and of its flagship titles - Government Technology and Governing.
Ashley Silver is a staff writer for <i>Government Technology. </i>She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Montevallo and a graduate degree in public relations from Kent State University. Silver is also a published author with a wide range of experience in editing, communications and public relations.