Hawley’s new website recognized by Massachusetts Municipal Association

The nonprofit Massachusetts Municipal Association has deemed Hawley to have the best website for a Massachusetts town with fewer than 5,000 residents.

The nonprofit Massachusetts Municipal Association has deemed Hawley to have the best website for a Massachusetts town with fewer than 5,000 residents. Screenshot

By BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer

Published: 12-26-2023 1:02 PM

Modified: 12-26-2023 5:48 PM


HAWLEY — The efforts behind the creation of the town’s new website are being recognized as the nonprofit Massachusetts Municipal Association has deemed Hawley to have the best website for a Massachusetts town with fewer than 5,000 residents.

The new website includes a complete visual redesign, new information navigation methods, a robust custom search interface, an event calendar that builds its own archive, automated notifications of town news for residents who choose to subscribe, an expanded emergency services section and a “How Do I?” section for common tasks where residents interact with town officials. It also includes custom tools to streamline data entry and standardize design for common content types like Selectboard meeting minutes, legal notices and news posts.

“With the Hawley site, we started from scratch,” website designer William Tuman wrote in an email, “taking nothing for granted, building exactly what the town needed, and iterating along the way to perfect features and designs.”

The Massachusetts Municipal Association’s award will be formally presented to the town in January.

Many civic sites, especially for smaller municipalities, are created by a handful of companies that specialize in government contracts. They often have the same template and towns pay annual fees for the website’s management.

Hawley’s old website was designed in 2013. Unlike many of the region’s municipal websites, its engineering was completely executed in-house and with volunteer labor. The expectation for the website in 2013 was that traffic would come completely from desktop computers rather than mobile devices. Plus, all updates to the website were made by one person who wanted to redistribute the work after being the sole individual responsible for many years.

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The town used about $9,000 of its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money to pay for Tuman’s design work that was paired with additional volunteer labor from Communications Committee member Peter Beck, other elected and appointed officials, and emergency responders. During the period of the website’s redesign, Administrative Assistant Tinky Weisblat’s hours were expanded by three extra hours per week to help with the project.

“This website uses proven technology, so it should work well for many years,” Tuman wrote.

Websites often work well on launch day, then they steadily deteriorate as a progression of new people, with varying levels of tech savvy and editorial skill, work with it. Institutional memory often deteriorates, and knowledge transfer is often incomplete from person to person. To combat this, the creators made tutorials to document day-to-day maintenance, as well as a design standard for administrators to follow.

“I hope this will help keep the site looking crisp and consistent throughout its lifespan,” Tuman continued.

Weisblat hopes in the future that more online payments can be incorporated into the website. Currently, residents can only pay taxes online through a third party provider.

When asked about the importance of the Hawley website, especially as many residents still don’t have broadband access in their homes and the town is one of the few municipalities left in the state without a complete broadband network, Tuman responded, “Every organization — whether a public institution, nonprofit, business or standalone project — should maintain a website, because it’s the only online resource they control. … Only independent websites have the potential to be exactly what their stakeholders intend them to be, and they can evolve in whatever ways the owners/operators see fit. This is critically important, because user expectations, social ideals and the technology itself are in constant flux. Organizations need to be able to adapt accordingly in ways that serve their needs and reflect their values.”

Weisblat thinks the website will enable the town to have more of a presence in the outside world, which may attract new residents as the existing population ages. She noted she is often surprised by the number of people who regularly refer to the website as a resource, and that town officials are still happy to answer any questions from residents.

Bella Levavi can be reached at 413-930-4579 or blevavi@recorder.com.