Sunshine Review:Evaluating government websites
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How to evaluate websites
County website project
County comparison chart
City website project
List of cities
School district website project
List of school districts
How do I evaluate a website?
The basic idea is to review the website of a city, county or school district you're interested in to see if it includes the basic information you need to be an informed citizen. You can compare what you find on a particular website to this Transparency Checklist or to the more specific ideas shared here about what should be on city websites, what should be on county websites and what should be on school district websites.
Ultimately, it's up to you to decide what information you'd like to be able to find on any particular government website, so if those checklists don't cover everything you'd like to see covered, please expand them.
- Start by reading Getting Started on Sunshine Review.
- Once you've registered and logged in, you're ready to start.
- Then, look at the website of the government agency you're interested in. Does it have the information you need?
- You can also sign up for a Wednesday webinar for personalized help. The webinars are conducted by Sunshine Review editor Kristin McMurray, aka Kristinpedia.
Find the right page
- Find the article on Sunshine Review about the city, county or school district you're evaluating by clicking on "U.S. States", a link you'll see in the left-hand sidebar of Sunshine Review no matter what page you're on.
- Once at U.S. States, find and click your state, where you'll find links to the cities, counties and school districts in your state.
Add your evaluation
Once you've located the page on Sunshine Review about the city, county or school district you wish to evaluate:
- Find the subsection in the article called "Evaluating the website".
- Click the edit tab, and start typing.
- Report whatever you'd like to share about the information you did (or didn't) find on the government website you looked at.
- Click on "save page" at the bottom of the screen.
- You're done! You are now officially an editor at Sunshine Review, not to mention an online activist and citizen journalist.
Adding some polish
- It's helpful to break the information you add into bullet-pointed sentences. For example, if the city website you're evaluating includes the budget, some contract information, and information about the city's elected officials, it is helpful if you break that sentence out into three different bullet-pointed sentences, like this:
- The website has information about the city's elected officials, including their contact e-mails and phone numbers.
- It also includes a copy of the city's budget for 2007-2008 (but not for previous years).
- The city's rules for bidding out large vendor contracts are listed online, but it doesn't include copies of the major vendor contracts.
To create a bullet point, simply type an asterisk at the beginning of your sentence.
The reason this is helpful is that eventually, the information you post will be compiled into a large chart comparing all the cities, counties or school districts in your state. The people who work on creating that chart will have an easier time of it if the information you provide is segregated into bullet points. See websites of the Louisiana parishes for an example of a statewide comparison chart.
- Look at Wasilla, Alaska for an example of an article that has useful external links.
- External links that should be added to the article include, especially, the link to the official website of the city, county or school district.
- If the article you're working on doesn't already have a section headlined "External links", you can go ahead and add that section toward the bottom of the article by typing:
- <nowiki>==External links==</nowiki>
- To add a link to an external website, start with an asterisk.
- After the asterisk, insert the URL of the external website along with words that tell your Sunshine Review reader what the website is. Surround all of this with single square brackets, like this:
- <nowiki>* Wasilla website</nowiki>
- Which looks like this:
- Wasilla website
In terms of evaluating a county, city or school district website, at any one point on Sunshine Review, the article about that website will be in a certain stage of development.
If you add category information to the bottom of the article you're working on that says what stage the article is in (starter, partially rated, or rated), that makes it easy to see at any time how much progress is being made on the overall My Government Website project.
Adding useful templates
Sunshine Review has a template for each of the fifty states. "State" templates look like this: <br>
State of Oklahoma
Oklahoma City (capital)
<br> It is a helpful service to readers to include the state template at the bottom of any article on SR about that state. When you do that, it allows the reader to quickly navigate to other articles about Sunshine Review about that state.
In order to add the state template, simply type:
- <nowiki>State of Oklahoma
Oklahoma City (capital)
Transparency Divisions Government Judiciary Ballot Measures
- Or whatever the name of the relevant state is, enclosed in double curly brackets.
- Look at the articles for Adair County, Oklahoma or Alaska state budget to see examples of state templates added to the bottom of articles.
If the county, city or school district website you're evaluating lacks basic information, you can add the "action" template to the page. This is what the action template looks like if you add it to a page:
In order to add the "action" template, simply type:
</nowiki> at the point in the article where you'd like it to appear.
- Look at Jackson Parish School Board, Louisiana for an example of how the template looks when inserted into an article.
D- Budget Meetings Elected Officials Administrative Officials Permits, zoning Audits Contracts Lobbying Public records Local taxes Transparency grading process
Once information has been collected on Sunshine Review about each of the ten items in the Transparency Checklist for either a city, county or school district, you can take the next step of adding a transparency checklist template to the article you're working on.
To add the 10-point template, you simply need to copy and paste the code for the correct template into the article you're working on. There are slightly different templates for cities, counties and school districts, and you can find all of them here along with their codes.Please note that it is easiest to start with a template with all options <nowiki> set to
Note: To use the transparency checklist requires only very basic html knowledge and can be learned very quickly. However, if you don't want to get into adding the template, don't worry. Someone else will eventually come along and add it.After copying the template you have chosen into the Sunshine Review article about the city, county or school district whose website you are reviewing, it is then quite easy to edit the template to reflect the correct facts about the specific website you're evaluating. Simply change <nowiki>
For easy to copy templates and a more detailed overview on how to complete the a transparency checklist visit transparency checklist templates.
Frequently asked questions
Question: When I do an internet search for the government website I'm interested in evaluating, there doesn't appear to be one.
Answer: If you've done a reasonably serious search on the internet for a government website and you don't find one, that might be because the government entity doesn't have a website yet. The fact that your county or city doesn't maintain a website should then be reported in the relevant page on Sunshine Review since, by definition, a city or county without a website isn't providing you with relevant online information. Here's an example.
Question: What should I do if the website gives partial information about something?
Answer: When this happens, give details. For example, you might write, "The county website gives a list of the elected county supervisors, but there is no contact information for them." Or "The county website gives a list of the elected county supervisors, and their phone numbers, but there are no e-mail addresses listed for them." Or, "The school district website has the budget for 2007-2008, and 2006-2007, but not for any previous years."
Link to a blog?
If there is a blog or other online news source that covers the city, county or school district you're writing about, and you believe it is a relevant and useful blog or news source, please do add a link to it in the external links section of the article you're working on.
- Strive for accuracy and fairness of tone.
- Read articles like Livingston Parish, Louisiana as an example. (You can copy editing commands from that page, too.)
- The Cheat sheet is filled with quick information on style and editing commands.
- You can also fix errors.
- And get involved in the Sunshine Review Community.
See a sample page
- Also please check out the Sample County Evaluation page.