Thanks to the Vermont Digital Economy Project and its partner, the Snelling Center, the Town of Mendon has a brand new municipal website, custom-tailored to the specific needs of Mendon’s community.
When the Town of Mendon applied for grant services from the Vermont Digital Economy Project, it was very specific about the help it wanted: a town website, period. The town’s website grant service application was very compelling, because of both the high level of need of this flood-impacted community and the eagerness with which town officials approached the project.
As the Town of Mendon Office Manager, Nancy Gondella, explained, Mendon’s need for a website became clear during Tropical Storm Irene:
The importance of being able to connect to our citizens hit home with Irene. Route 4, the most highly traveled east-west corridor in the State of Vermont, was closed for 18 days. 250 properties in Mendon and all of Killington were secluded…Mendon had a basic static website prior to the storm. Immediately, the website was the primary source for the most up-to-date information regarding emergency response services. Due to our website’s limitations, we were only able to update one page, which became a lengthy running page with all the current information. While not user-friendly or organized, it was all we had. As Mendon moved from emergency response to recovery, the overhaul and re-design of the website was added to the ‘to do’ list. Unfortunately, due to Irene damages costing the town almost an entire year’s operating budget, we simply don’t have the financial or technical resources to accomplish the task.
As part of the project, the Snelling Center for Government (SCG) has integrated a community process to gather citizen sourced information. It conducted a survey to get a better understanding of what residents viewed as useful information on the town website and hosted a Community Discussion for Mendon Residents to share their views on what content should be considered.
Tess Gauthier, the project coordinator for the municipal website builds through the Snelling Center for Government, explained why this step was important. “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,” she noted. “Community involvement deepens the usefulness of a Town’s website and encourages citizens to get and stay engaged locally. It also helps create a website that is a careful reflection of the community.”
This was reflected at Mendon’s Community Discussion. Through community involvement, three themes were chosen for the town of Mendon’s site, which truly display the town’s character: “visit”,“live” and “history.”
The “visit” section was confirmed as important when, during the Community Discussion, several residents pointed out that one special aspect of Mendon is its great range of recreational activities, including a number of state forests with hiking trails. Mendon is also in close proximity to some of the best winter sporting locations in the Northeast: Killington and Pico. Gondella, explained that because of this, the town asked its office intern, Lydia Gulick, a local high schooler, to gather all trailhead info and take pictures of them, so people who use the website will know what the trails look like when they’re hiking. Now, information about hiking trails in Mendon can be found on the new site at www.mendonvt.org/visit-mendon/.
The town itself is in a rural setting, but commuting to both Killington and one of Vermont’s few cities, nearby Rutland, is very easy. It was also clear that townspeople like stopping in at the Mendon Town Office to conduct community business and hear about what’s happening. They do not want the website to replace normal interactions with the town. Through this discussion, it was understood that Mendon’s website did not need to have a focus on online transactional services. Instead, because the townspeople value their history, Gondella worked with another local student to research and document the town’s events and roots. This section can be found at www.mendonvt.org/history-mendon/
After establishing the type of content that both the town and the people of Mendon wanted on the site, the Snelling Center turned to TimeWaveMedia (TWM) to actually build and deliver it. TWM is a Vermont company that is a leader in cross-platform digital development and that understands the importance of making sites responsive, mobile, and cross-browser compatible. Guy Derry, President of TWM, is excited about the mission of the Snelling Center and the Vermont Digital Economy Project and eager to help. TWM’s approach is to make the site functional, while at the same time, incorporating features to help townspeople communicate more seamlessly, improve municipal efficiencies, and increase citizen engagement.
The last step in the process is also arguably the most important: making sure that the town employees tasked with website management are both trained and empowered to make their own updates. To accomplish this, the Mendon team went through a day-long training session, and thanks to this training, Gondella said that she plans on updating the site once a week, unless there is an emergency. “With the training we’ve received, we think we can do this in about an hour a week,” she said.
After all of this planning and hard work, Gauthier is pleased to launch the town of Mendon’s website. “From the project’s kick-off, Town Officials were a joy to work with,” she said. “The site reflects their focus and commitment getting content together, the input gathered through our Community methodology, and the unique characteristics of Mendon as a town.”