CityWatch Insider Look at City Hall Los Angeles

The State of Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Websites



By Chris Steins, Abhijeet Chavan, Kurt Rademaekers, Cate Miller

Can your community reach you through your website? You might be surprised. A recent survey shows that only half of City of Los Angeles neighborhood councils with websites offer information explaining how community residents can participate. This is just one of the findings of a white paper on the usability of neighborhood council websites in the City of Los Angeles prepared by Urban Insight, a professional technology consulting firm. Of the 89 neighborhood councils in L.A., 63 (75%) have a website. This brief article summarizes our findings about how these 63 Neighborhood Councils are using web technologies for outreach and communication.

First, the good news: Four of five (80%+) neighborhood councils with websites provided basic information such as contact information, a list of board members, a map of council boundaries, and a list of council committees on their website.

Additionally, roughly seven in 10 (70%) neighborhood council websites offered meeting agendas and meeting minutes, news, and, notably, the ability for residents and others to sign up to receive occasional email notifications about neighborhood council events and issues. However, some findings are not so positive:

" Only about one in twenty neighborhood councils update their website weekly or more often. Most neighborhood councils update their website monthly or less often. " Less than one-third of neighborhood councils offered a way to search the site. " Just over half (51%) offered instructions to visitors on how to become involved or participate with the neighborhood council. " Approximately one-third of neighborhood councils included official correspondence, such as official memos or letters sent to public officials

Neighborhood council websites vary widely in content and form, from unfortunately-designed single page sites that have not been updated for months, to sophisticated websites with useful interactive features. During our evaluation, we identified several neighborhood council websites that we feel are excellent examples [Sasnet Design]:

Based on our findings, we offer 11 recommendations to neighborhood councils. Here are a few: Increase usage: One of the primary goals of neighborhood councils is communication, and the website is the most affordable and efficient form of outreach to residents. While it is commendable that 75% of neighborhood councils have a website, the additional 25% of neighborhood councils who do not maintain a website should be incentivized to provide information about their council and activities on the web.

Increase consistency of information: The lack of basic information (mission, contact information, boundaries, board members, agendas, minutes) among a significant percentage of council websites suggests that there may be value in creating a set of minimum expectations for neighborhood council websites.

Offer Search: 70% of neighborhood council websites do not allow visitors to enter one or more keywords to search the website. This can be remedied using the free Google Custom Search Engine (CSE). CSE harnesses the power of Google to create a customized search that can be easily installed.

Consider using web content management systems: There is a broad trend in the field of website development to adopt web content management systems. Web content management systems enable authorized non-technical users to more easily update a website using only a web browser, which has the practical impact of helping keep the website regularly updated with current information. Use interactive maps: In this generation of interactive Google Maps, we expected to find a variety of neighborhood councils taking advantage of Google's "My Maps" feature to build interactive maps of their council boundaries. Such maps are useful to residents in determining if they a member of the council. Interactive maps can also be used to point out features of the neighborhood for meetings or events.


CityWatch

Vol 7, Issue 57

For more information: SASNET DESIGN | Our Neighborhood Council Video Tutorials |