This article has been republished with permission from Kelsey Stanczyk, Public Sector Digest.
NOVA SCOTIA’S MUNICIPAL WEBSITE VENTURE: A CASE STUDY IN SHARED SERVICES
PSD RESEARCH IN CONVERSATION WITH LES COLEMAN, MUNICIPAL WEBSITE VENTURE COORDINATOR
Most municipalities are on their own when it comes to designing and managing their websites. As a result, many communities fall behind and their sites become out of date very quickly. The Association of Municipal Administrators of Nova Scotia (AMANS) has tackled this problem through their Municipal Website Venture. Now, every municipality in Nova Scotia has easy access to a trusted web developer and, as a result, citizens have better access to updates on community events, emergency situations, and the general activities of their municipality. PSD spoke with Municipal Website Venture Coordinator, Les Coleman, to discuss this program and how he and his team have brought Nova Scotia’s municipal websites up to speed.
INTERVIEW: LES COLEMAN, MUNICIPAL WEBSITE VENTURE COORDINATOR, AMANS
When was the venture first launched and what prompted the endeavour?
It first started in May of 2007, when I was hired, but previous to that there was a pilot project that was conducted amongst a number of municipalities just to get things started. It launched with a committee through the Province of Nova Scotia at an eGovernment meeting. They met to discuss issues related to online services that they would like available to municipalities. This was the largest venture that came from that meeting. When we started, we had 13 municipalities and we also had some funding from the provincial government as seed funding. That was for the first two years with a little bit more coming in the third year.
What criteria makes a municipality eligible for participation in the venture?
Municipalities just have to be within the province of Nova Scotia. However, we are considering expanding that, if there is interest. We were looking at possibly expanding to P.E.I., however, we haven’t had discussions with any of their municipalities. We also have non-municipal partners that have a role in the public sector. For example, we have a website for the Municipal Development Officer’s Association (MDOA) of Nova Scotia, among others.
How is the program funded?
All of our funding comes from the fees that municipalities pay to be a member. All of the municipalities are also members of AMANS but many of them, of course, choose not to join the municipal website venture. Our fees are based on population size. When they join it is for a 3 year commitment period and they pay a certain amount per year. For municipalities that have over 10,000 in population they’re paying $5000 a year, between 2500 and 10,000 it is $3000, and if they are under 2500 it is only $1000 a year.
How many websites have been launched through this venture?
Somewhere between 50 and 60.
What process should a municipality expect when joining the venture?
When we start, it varies a lot, in terms of what the expectations are and what they want in terms of the specifics. Often we’ll go through a planning process and that will identify the design, the features, the site map and the timeline in terms of milestones. Sometimes a municipality will say, ‘We have a design and we want specifically this,’ and they have it all thought out in advance and it’s just a question of filling in all the blanks in terms of completing the project. Other times it’s quite the opposite. They don’t have any idea, and it’s just a question of trying to do an analysis of their needs and then trying to shape something that will be to their satisfaction.
How long does it usually take to launch a website?
It averages somewhere between three and six months. Sometimes it’s shorter than that and it’s not unusual for it to take longer than that.
How much ongoing contact do you have with the municipality after the launch of their website?
We maintain regular contact and we usually have just one person as the contact. We also have a support package that goes along with the website development. The bronze package provides four hours a year of support. We also have a silver package for 12 hours and a gold package for 24 hours. Usually a municipality will join and will go for the bronze package because they don’t know their requirements. We will just bill them hourly beyond what they have subscribed to. One of the things that is included in the package is that we host everything on our own dedicated server. Hosting the site, as well as providing the support keeps us in regular contact with all of the municipal partners. Some, of course, don’t have as many needs for support as others. It really is dependent on what each municipality wants to do.
How many municipal staff members maintain a typical website?
It varies. In some municipalities there is only one point of contact and that person is responsible for the entire website. For larger municipalities, for example Cape Breton Regional Municipality (population of 97,389) they may have over 25 people contributing to the website. So there is a lot of variation there.
Why did you decide to use Joomla as your hosting service?
Joomla was decided on for two reasons. First of all, for its ease of use relative to other content management systems. Also, for its relative power – it can do an awful lot. You can have a CMS like wordpress.com that is great for blogs. But if you want to add more sophisticated functionality, a system like Joomla might be the better option.
How would you recommend a municipality prepare for a new website launch?
The most important thing, and the first thing a municipality should consider is their content. That, in my experience, tends to be the greatest challenge. Sometimes it can be difficult to organize and arrange priorities. Other times it’s just a challenge for a municipality to get the content created, or to go through what they already have on their website and decide what they want to move over to the new site and what content they want to create from scratch. When I am developing a website, the content tends to be the bottle neck more than anything else. I can design a website in less than a month, but we may wait two or three months before I have all of the content to populate what is there before we can launch it, live. PSD