“I’d already given them my information, but when I got to the service desk, they asked me for it again… wouldn’t it be better to just do everything online?”
This is just one of the many voices of Italian citizens struggling every day to access the services offered by their municipalities, reminding us that municipal websites are part of daily life: we use them to pay taxes, find a preschool for our kids, receive traffic alerts, etc.”
These are the concrete and daily needs we started from in the design of a model website for Italian municipalities. This prototype is available for use by all municipalities and was conceived of using the methods and tools of Designers Italia (available in Italian), a point of reference for the design of Italian public administration services.
Creating a standard that guarantees quality
To create a quality service with all the basic necessary features available, we decided to create an easily replicable standard website model so that the more than eight thousand Italian municipalities don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time they need a website. It’s a one-of-a-kind reference model, capable of promoting the most efficient solutions for citizens and encouraging collaboration among and between municipalities and institutions. It is easier to collaborate and share experiences if you speak the same digital language.
A municipality’s website performs many functions: it provides information on traffic and events and enables citizens to enroll their children in preschool, obtain information on recycling, renew an identity card, and pay garbage taxes and fines. More generally, a municipal website is a point of reference and exchange between the administration and a large number of different subjects: individual citizens, commuters, tourists, associations, professionals, businesses (i.e. construction, trade, tourism) and so on.
Due to the variety and number of subjects addressed by each municipality, there is considerable variability in the quantity and type of services offered by each administrative site. Taking this into account, we have worked to create models for recurrent needs that users may have, such as:
- signing up for something or starting a practice;
- searching for specific information on a topic;
- paying for a service;
- making an appointment to speak with a municipal official;
- reporting an incident or concern.
We’ve organized these models into a prototype released in open source (soon to be available as an html template, currently in the process of being published in the Designers Italia development kit). Along with the prototype, documentation has been published on the main page of the project. This is how all Italian Municipalities (and the developers working on their websites) will be able to access the patterns and elements we’ve designed and liberally adapt them to fit specific needs.
A one-of-a-kind website for municipalities: features of the prototype
To ensure a perfect user experience on a smartphone, we designed the prototype in mobile first mode. Some website services were developed specifically for use by smartphones, like the service that allows citizens to report problems by scanning a QR code printed on notices and posters.
The section dedicated to services is the core of the website. All services are listed on a presentation page with a defined structure, offering the basic information necessary for getting to know the service and learning how to use it. Namely:
- what it does;
- who it’s for;
- how long it takes to access it;
- what you need to do to use it.
The section includes all services and provides the citizen with instructions on what to do, whether the tasks can be completed online or require an in-person visit to a service kiosk.
The Homepage, search engine, and personal area respect the criteria defined for Public Administration websites and tested by users in the context of the Designers Italia project.
The homepage is organized so as to offer the user an overview of the contents and services available on the website. The search function is carefully designed, as per user preference in usability tests, providing autocomplete functions and a filter system based on taxonomies and keywords. The personal area gives citizens a place to store all messages from the municipality (regarding payment notices, the status of a procedure, deadlines, etc.) and an archive of all practices, documents and receipts of payments made.
The organization of site contents takes into account both the point of view of citizens (topics) and the city’s departmental organization, in accordance with the guidelines of Designers Italia on information architecture.
The ability to classify content by keyword and create pages dedicated to specific topics (e.g. summer in the city, tourism, construction sites, etc.) introduces flexible content management and avoids the proliferation of sites with disorganized and disconnected content, which are difficult to consult and keep updated.
Municipal websites usually host a large number of documents. This project, therefore, also defines several ways to present, titrate, and classify documents. The objectives are to:
- make it easy for citizens to read;
- make documents easier to find;
- make the section dedicated to transparent administration easier to manage (for the public officials who deal with it).
A project born of a network of experiences
The prototype was designed on the basis of the best local experiences had by dozens of Italian municipalities. It is an approach to sharing best practices, a kind of community of connected entities and local administrations, made possible by the Designers Italia and Developers Italia platforms.
The City of Florence website, designed last year in compliance with the guidelines and principles of Designers Italia, was one of the project’s starting points. “We are delighted to have started this journey. Thanks to Designers Italia, we have been able to begin designing the Municipality’s services — starting with construction — using a participatory design method that respects users’ needs. We are happy to be able to share experiences with other Italian Municipalities,” says Gianluca Vannuccini, director of technological development for the City of Florence.
Veneto Region’s “MyPortal 3,” has also contributed to this project, having already started the process of adopting the Designers Italia guidelines. According to Antonino Mola, director of community, platform and digital skills for the Veneto Region: “Designers Italia’s tools have helped us understand the needs and priorities of citizens and translate them into standard solutions within MyPortal 3, the Veneto Region’s platform, which hosts 150 of the Region’s Municipalities. In the next few months we will begin some even more intense, structured forms of collaboration.”
The City of Cagliari is developing the the first website based on the model we designed. This pilot project is also an opportunity to introduce a participatory work mode, involving all the Municipality’s offices in the design and management of the site. Development and usability tests are an opportunity to correct and continue to improve the project. The templates created from the prototype will soon be available to everyone. Riccardo Castrignanò, director of digital transition for the City of Cagliari, says: “Together with the Digital Transformation Team, we are designing our website by adopting the Designers Italia kits. In doing so, we are creating components that will soon be available to all other Italian Municipalities.”
To participate in the project and exchange ideas on municipal websites, visit this section in Forum Italia (available in Italian).
Documentation, information architecture and prototypes are available on the Designers Italia website.
On the Designers Italia blog, you can read a story (available in Italian) about our adopted work method and the role played by the Designers Italia kits.