The revitalized, improved website of the Town of Bedford made its debut recently (www.bedfordma.gov).
The upgrade represents a higher level of website format offered by the town’s vendor, Civic Plus, a Kansas-based company with a national clientele. It fulfills an earlier Select Board goal.
Civic Plus’s website testifies, “We believe that every interaction between residents and their government should be exceptional and frictionless. It’s why we build technology solutions designed to foster positive and powerful civic experiences.”
The process actually began late in the winter of 2020 – “right around the time of Covid,” said Colleen Doyle, Assistant Town Manager for Human Resources and Administration. “We really ramped it up since January.”
Doyle and Charlie Ticotsky, Assistant to the Town Manager, drove the process, along with the town information technology office. Doyle and Ticotsky cited the contributions of Dan Leahy, chief information officer, and Anna Collins, technology support specialist.
“We have gotten some feedback. Overall, it has been very positive,” Ticotsky reported. He noted that the product was actually ready early this month, but town officials deliberately waited until after the Nov. 8 state election and the Nov. 14 Special Town Meeting.
“The team looked at a number of different designs from the vendor and considered what we liked, what made sense,” Doyle said. “From a design standpoint, we knew where we wanted to go.” Civic Plus put the product together. “There were a number of demonstrations by the vendor. There are certain things that we could customize but because they are nationwide, they thought of it all.”
Doyle said the upgrade incorporated two main priorities.
One was to make the website easier to use. There are assumptions in the industry, she said: “The more people have to click, the harder it is to find something. If people have to click more than three times, it’s not a very well-thought-out website.”
So, the goal was to make links available in many different ways, and the website “more usable and logical,” she said, “making sure things can be found and can be found easily.”
For example, there are now several avenues to find information on refuse disposal and recycling, Doyle pointed out, said, including the large icon button as a search function, and the Department of Public Works page. “It doesn’t matter which way they get there. We just want them to get the information, so redundancy is intentional. That’s a best practice.”
The other objective is improving the website’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. That means integrating “best practices” to making images and links accessible to the visually impaired, she said.
Most of the content transfer from the previous website was handled by the vendor, Ticotsky said, with the town ensuring the accuracy of time-sensitive information and updating frequently-asked questions.
Residents who have been registered for alerts and notices from town departments should continue to receive them, Ticotsky said, but they may sign up again if they’re concerned about being dropped.
He explained that although the Town Manager’s office and IT specialists led the upgrade, as many as 30 people from various town agencies are responsible for adding content day-by-day to department pages and those of related committees. Everyone involved has been trained for the new format, he added.
There are several striking horizontal photographs of local scenes that change on the screen each time the user refreshes the screen. Doyle said the photos have been on file for some time, but the new format enhances their prominence.
Simultaneous with the unveiling, Ticotsky said, “there was a nationwide outage of Civic Plus websites.” That episode was “completely coincidental,” he stressed.