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Engaging Citizens To Help Build Municipal Websites

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This article was written by Tess Gauthier, Project Coordinator at the Snelling Center

Tess Gauthier in Wilmington Vermont
Tess Gauthier, of the Snelling Center for Government, gets input from community members in Wilmington about how the town's website can better meet the needs of the community.

The Snelling Center for Government is happy to announce the launch of a community focused approach to engaging citizens in the redevelopment of Town websites.

On Thursday, August 29th, we hosted the first forum in Wilmington, where residents attended a facilitated discussion about the Town website. Critical information about the area and its attractions, as well as input on how to improve the usefulness of the website was gathered with the goal of incorporating some of this information into the redevelopment of Wilmington’s website.

Wilmington residents discussed several additions to the town website, including local weather, road crew activity, 9-1-1 and police dispatch information, as well as adding photos and bios to the list of town officials.  The group is also greatly looking forward to better overall website organization and photography that highlights the importance of the natural environment to the town's unique character.

Municipal websites have great potential to help unify a community, and involving citizens in the process of redeveloping websites is critical for several reasons, including:

  1. Increasingly, citizens everywhere expect their municipal website to be a primary source for town communication and to reflect what citizens want to know and share.
  2. With citizen input, developers can build in features and links that citizens perceive as useful, thus making it more likely that a greater number of townspeople will use the website.
  3. Involvement in deepening the usefulness of their town website will encourage citizens to get and stay engaged with their town.

Additionally, in disaster settings, accurate and up to date information is critical. Increasing the adoption of municipal websites will help with the accurate dissemination of information in the event of another emergency or disaster.

The Snelling Center for Government is partnering with towns and Vermont Leadership Network Alumni to host a series of Community Forums in flood impacted towns. The forums are open to the public and guided by a facilitator, with the goal of understanding from citizens how we can deepen the usefulness of each towns’ municipal websites.

Mary Towne, the Town of Wilmington's administrative assistant, who manages the website, said, "Going into this process, I did not understand how valuable having a town meeting would be. Your team did a great job in bringing people together and I am really excited about the upgrades and additions we will be making to our website as a result of this."

If you would like to volunteer to facilitate a community discussion or attend one, please contact Tess Gauthier - tess@snellingcenter.org

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In partnership with Vermont Digital Economy Project, The Snelling Center for Government is assisting flood impacted towns to redevelop and build first time websites. We are working with towns to create a websites that will engage the community, enable greater efficiencies, make government more accessible to its citizens, promote economic prosperity, and build resilient communication channels to citizens in times of emergency.

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