How to Create a City Website Redesign RFP That Attracts Premier Vendors

February 14, 2022

Company employee analyzing documents on clipboard to plan business strategy with laptop

3 trends we love from 2021 RFPs and 3 trends that cause concern 

The pandemic forced municipalities to reconsider how they serve their communities online. Cities have had to overcome extended office closures, the need to rapidly roll out registration for testing and vaccine appointments, and an ongoing demand from citizens to avoid physical spaces in favor of online transactions. Providing the ability to not just find information but actually complete transactions through city websites has become a front-and-center concern. We’ve seen this reflected in recent requests for proposal (RFPs), where in addition to the typical reasons for a website redesign (such as outdated or end-of-life platforms or new leadership), the need to provide comprehensive online services has become a common theme. 

For over a decade, we’ve analyzed hundreds of RFPs annually for city, county, public library, and other public sector websites, tracking trends and common practices. Some of these are positive; others are out-of-touch with the needs of today and tomorrow. Some make us eager to respond and potentially build a relationship; others make us move an RFP to the bottom of the pile. 

If you want to provide your community the best chance to have qualified vendors bidding on your city website project, read on. 

2021 Municipal Website RFP Trends

Here’s what we loved about the 2021 batch of city website RFPs:

Clear emphasis on better content.

It’s ironic: Many city website RFPs are for “content management systems,” but they spend little time discussing the content itself. The good news is, we’re seeing a trend towards better content (and not just better content software). For example, the City of Independence, Missouri made content searchability their top priority (page 4 of their RFP) and stated “planning, simplifying, and migrating current content” as key. In years past, the content itself would often take a back seat to the software.

The desire for a better user experience (design), not just a checklist of features.

Overall, we’ve seen increased partnerships between information technology and communications staff, and the result is a more holistic understanding of a website’s goals and functions. This has led to project scopes that expand beyond technology feature sets, and include increased emphasis on site usability, branding, and strategy for social media. This perspective makes it easier to propose solutions that will bring benefits not only for the community’s residents, but for the city staff who leverage and maintain the site.

Real diversity, equity, and inclusion requests. 

In the past, we often saw “ADA compliance” provided as a box to check. More and more cities are seeing that online accessibility standards aren’t just a niche requirement or a legal hurdle. Instead, accessibility presents an opportunity to create a better experience for all users and to foster a community that cares for all of its citizens, regardless of ability, bandwidth, language spoken, or other differences.

Here’s what we didn’t love about the 2021 batch of city website RFPs:

Downplaying the need for training.

We understand the need to get a new site live quickly. But a single-minded focus on rolling out the software can negatively impact the humans who need to create useful content for the public. Not only can a rushed approach reduce buy-in from team members who will use the interface every day, but it also risks backlogs and bottlenecks from content having to be “forced” into a system that didn’t consider real-world users’ needs earlier in the process and/or that users may not fully understand.

A kitchen-sink approach to inclusion/diversity/equity.

You cannot maintain genuine digital accessibility over time with tons of technology features alone. Accessibility is also about content strategy and training. Your team needs to understand why things like alternative text and plain language writing are so important and build good habits in order for them to put accessibility tools into practice with success.

Overly complex technical requirements.

Sometimes, less is more. By over-describing how your current system works (and often attempting to replicate it), you can lose focus on the project, trying to make pieces fit together before the new blueprint is designed. Let the vendors show you how they’d solve the problem instead. 

Embarking on the RFP process shouldn’t be something you dread. Hopefully, with the help of these pointers from real city website RFPs and our analysis of useful trends, you can craft an RFP that will not only attract highly qualified vendors but also energize your organization as you look toward future improvements and upgrades.