Where do I start?

Learn how to start a redesign of your city website

This guide is to help leadership responsible for redesigning, re-implementing or overhauling a city website put in place the practices that will lead to delivering better digital services.

A new way of delivering your city website

Putting users first

Building a good city website means meeting the needs of your users. Your users will have high expectations of digital services, whether delivered by government or private companies. We have a responsibility to meet those expectations.

This guide is written to help you learn from the teams who are building successful, world-class digital services. You will learn how to place users at the heart of the services you deliver, incorporating their feedback at every step of the way.

Iterating with user research

Do not start a procurement process for a new or redesigned city website without first doing user research.

Websites are normally built after long and expensive procurement processes, and users are rarely consulted about the website itself. The first time real users might see the new website is when it is made live, by which time it is normally practically too late - and too expensive - to make any changes if it turns out to be unfit for purpose.

This way of working and procuring city websites normally leads to an extremely detailed requirements document or RFP in an attempt to reduce risk. Instead, teams must constantly iterate against user feedback by building, testing and delivering in small, regular pieces, working quickly to deliver improvements.

This approach allows teams the flexibility to work out the best way to meet user needs, to update the website regularly and to work in an iterative way. It also makes it much easier for policy and delivery teams to work together.

Your next steps

We recommend that you start with a discovery phase. You can do this in-house, or with the help of an external team. This should take no longer than 4 to 8 weeks.

The discovery team

Your starting team should be made up of your stakeholders and any core members that you’ve identified, including the person responsible for the quality and usage of your city’s website. A good set of core team members would include:

  • someone to lead the overall project, for example, a communications director
  • one or more people to be responsible for outreach and to run a user survey, or to work with a company that can run a survey for you

If you decide to use an external team to run a survey, most cities should not have to spend more than $50,000.


Your discovery phase should produce:

  • a prioritized list of user needs
  • ability to decide what should in your alpha website and your plan for delivering it
  • a decision on whether or not to progress to the alpha website stage
  • some rough sketches of an alpha website
  • a list of stakeholders and input from them about what the existing website does, whether by government or third parties
  • a review of your website analytics (website traffic) to understand how many and pages and documents you have, and how frequently they are used
  • the results of your digital service census

Our Oakland Digital Front Door phase 1 report is a good example of what you should have at the end of a successful discovery phase.

After the discovery phase

Once you have completed the discovery phase, you’ll be ready to move on to the alpha phase, where the team will build a prototype, test it with users and improve it.

Tell us what you think (opens a 3 minute survey on another website)

Skip to contents

Join the conversation and talk to other local government staff in our Digital Front Door community.

Join this community

Help make our documentation better: