Building eGovernment Websites


WHO is the website for?

After establishing the primary objectives for your website (see sub-section just above), you should focus on who the audience for your website is likely to be.

In fact, this is the factor that will have the biggest influence on the way you structure and design your site: you should always bear in mind that a website is primarily a communication tool, and that as such, it should be as easy and straightforward as possible to use for your intended audience. In other words, the way you organise and structure contents, the navigation system you implement, and the layout of the site should be as user-friendly as possible.

In real-life situations, and especially if you set multiple objectives for your website, it is likely that you will be looking at catering for a variety of users . In this case, it would help to prioritise users in different categories, as this will provide you with clear criteria for taking decisions in case you cannot satisfy the needs of all users with the resources you have at your disposal (i.e. you would give priority to the communication needs of the most important, or largest, group of users).

There are two main aspects it would help to focus on when you analyse who the users of the website could or should be: the type of activity they would be likely to be undertaking when visiting your website, and the users' technical profile .

Type of Activity

The activity users intend to undertake, or the informational need(s) they intend to satisfy when they visit your e-government website, will influence the way they use the website itself, and you should be prepared to take this into account when planning the site. In the case of e-government websites, main user profiles can be roughly divided into two categories:

This is only a very rough categorisation, and you should remember you might have different types of users using your website, falling in different categories. But it's important to determine who the main users of your site will be, and design the website according to their needs.

Technical Profile

This includes both the technical setup your users are likely to be using when they access your website, and their skills and proficiency in using IT and alphabet-based communication tools.

Users in developing countries often have limited access to recent technologies, and access the web through relatively slow connections: it is therefore important that you design your website to be accessible also in these conditions. This means you should, for instance, avoid adopting very complex graphical designs and avoid relying on very large files to convey information.

The typical users of e-government websites may also be people with varying (and sometimes limited) IT and general literacy: this is especially the case if the site is designed to cater for a very wide section of the population. You should therefore make sure that the site is usable and comprehensible by most, if not all, users, including those whose skills and literacy are limited. This means first of all using common language and clear, extensive instructions. But it also means that you may have to provide alternative routes for users, e.g. instructions for disabled people, or information in the different languages in use in your audience. If, instead, your typical users are specialists in a specific discipline, and your website is designed to cater for their needs (e.g. a website providing access to a medical knowledge resource database for doctors and hospital staff), you should make sure the terminology used in the site is specialised enough to be meaningful to them.

Failing to understand these requirements from the outset may lead to the need for an expensive and time-consuming review of the project later on, or to its ultimate failure.

How Do You Establish Who Your Typical Users Are Going To Be?

A typical and relatively economic way of doing this is to discuss it with people in the organisation you are working for, and especially with members of staff whose job already requires some degree of contact with the public: this may include staff working in offices open to the public, or dealing with enquiries on the phone or by mail. Consulting staff who work in the field, i.e. whose job requires travel to rural or remote areas to come into contact with citizens or other organisations, would also help.

There is of course no substitute to consulting the potential users themselves, or a sample of them, if this is possible. But this can take time and be rather expensive, as you may have to run a survey, or contact citizens and conduct meetings with them, and reward them for their collaboration to the project, etc.

The bottom line is that you should try to do what you can with the resources at your disposal: sometimes consulting even just a limited number of possible users can take you a long way, and reveal important issues that may be overseen by people in your organisation. Use what you have to do what you can.

You should also consider that there may be a difference between who you think, or you want the users of your site to be, and who they may actually turn out to be, and be prepared to cater for them, too, if this fits with the goals of your organisation. This means you should be prepared to review your user categorisations and priorities if this is central to the website's success.

Page Author: Andrea Bardelli Danieli. Last updated on 19 October, 2008.
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