Thoughts on a “perfect council website”

Yesterday i attended the “Building the Perfect Council Website” event in London. The keynote speaker was Gerry McGovern and i was very impressed although at times i thought it was hard to imagine how you actually achieve this stuff in local government, because web managers are only one cog in a big wheel, we are almost guardians of the corporate web instead of managers but still some great points none the less.

My observations and thoughts (this may not reflect exactly what he said, but will give you a flavour)

  • Get rid of those damn press releases (who the heck reads them).
  • Stop the political messages (Our Leader).
  • Nobody cares for this stuff, they are task focused and don’t have much time.
  • We already take their money and if we take even more of there time we will only create more frustrated citizens and visitors.
  • Delete most of your content as nobody reads or even maintains the stuff.
  • 80% of web management is observing behaviour.
  • Do the tasks your customers do and experience the “journey” yourself.
  • Personalisation doesn’t work, most people don’t want to do it – interesting considering i was on the panel about web 2.0 techniques with “Steve Johnson” from Redbridge and “Suraj Kiki” founder of Jadu CMS, more on this later)
  • Start with your top tasks and get them on your homepage to stop people having to search for them.
  • Don’t force “corporate” crap at your customers, they don’t really care.

I was buzzing afterwards and had so many thoughts and issues running through my head, one then stuck straight away was about deleting content.

My council and it appeared that most councils do the same as well, have started to use the web as a repository for “stuff” which someone at some point might read, it also make FOI easier (well that is the theory), but it doesn’t make using teh site easier as it just gets bigger and bigger with “stuff” that people don’t actually read but one day they might look back and say “i wonder if the council had a strategy on XXX, Oh look it was on there website all the time, that was lucky”

So perhaps a medium term action is to split the website up – not practically, but in a virtual way in to 3 sections

  1. Transactional Services and Core Information – linked with Customer Service Centre.
  2. Corporate Information – stuff you want to say but no one really reads.
  3. Archive – where all the “stuff” can sit and turn to virtual compost.

Right job done, sit back relax……phew…….Wait, there is more

I said earlier that it raised a number of issues in my head, and i started to clarify them on the train home whilst reading “clay shirky”. (I wanted to finish this sooner but got distracted by Quantum Psychology by Robert Anton Wilson also an interesting read)

Other issues included

  • Who do we really want our audience to be? We have many different types and research published by Socitm suggests that on average only about 25% of residents look at your website? so who the hell is the other 75% and what do they want to do in terms of top tasks?
  • Personalisation does work, surely it does, i mean amazon, ebay, digital banking, cookie based postcoded weather from the BBC is all personalisation, just varying levels
  • Are we all doing web management wrong?
  • How can you explain to politicians that nobody cares about them on the website?

On to “personalisation” and the workshop Web 2.0 techniques in councils websites.

Suraj, opened the workshop with the “machine is us” web2.0 video, which i have previously posted on this blog.

It was then my turn and i didn’t want to use any slides of presentation as we are on our journey to developing our new site (i will include some of the visual designs for you to see exclusively here towards the end of the post) But i explained why we are on this journey and the benefits we feel we will get.

I also said that i believed that personalisation is something that we should consider, but it will be in the implementation of it that will be key. we don’t intend anyone to register with our site to personalise it, so if you don’t your experience would be no different to anyone else who doesn’t, but if you do choose, then you may have a more personalised view of the council based on your interests and location.

Steve Johnson then gave a presentation on the real thing “redbridge i”, what was interesting to me was the redbridge conversation work that they had done around the budget process…check it out for yourself.

The rest of the day was a blur to be honest, as my mind was digesting all the issues and questions that the morning session had sparked in my head. although i asked lots of questions when opportunity arose, on the whole the event was good, but with all these things the people made it and it was great to make new contacts and meet people i haven’t seen for a while and who i should speak to more often.

Ok, as promised, the visual design for our website. NB: This reflects visually what we intend to complete over a number of phases of development.


9 thoughts on “Thoughts on a “perfect council website”

  1. Interesting post. On your question about how to tell politicians they’re not what the public come to the site about, as an ex-politician I can tell you we know that already. We also know that the council had already come to that conclusion.

    I’d argue that the way to approach it would be to help your politicians to make their own websites, and then promote them much better, particularly at a ward level. The new White Paper, it seems to me, gives you permission to get on with it.

  2. A Brown : “I’d argue that the way to approach it would be to help your politicians to make their own websites, and then promote them much better, particularly at a ward level.”

    Yeah, its called a parish council.

  3. Thanks for the comments, although i think that there is a lot of work to do around building and encouraging capacity in this area.

    Councillors at all levels need guidance and support around web and internet opportunities. There is a role for mentors around this area and the white paper highlights it. Dave Briggs has posted on this subject here

  4. Carl

    I noticed that you quote Socitm research as saying only 25% of residents look at their council’s website and then ask ‘what are the other 75% looking at?’

    I think you are muddling up two things – on the one hand the proportion of local residents that use the website and on the other, the proportion of a council website’s users that are local residents.

    On the first of these items, the latest issue of the Socitm Website Takeup service briefing says, about the percentage of local
    residents using a council website in each
    month: We suggest that the target to aim for is
    25% (or 15% in shire counties and 18% in shire
    districts). 15 councils out of 81 achieve this,
    forming in effect the upper quartile. The singletier
    council with the highest percentage of local
    residents using the council website is Bracknell
    Forest (35.5%); in two-tier areas the shire
    county that does best is Warwickshire CC
    (17.9%) and the best shire district is Guildford
    BC (29.2%). The Socitm figures are arrived at by looking at the total number of residents who visited in one month and comparing that with the size local resident population overall.

    But remember, these figures cover just in one month. Over twelve months a much larger proportion will have visited.

    In terms of people actually using the website, the figures show that 68% are local residents; 27% work in the local area, and 6% are visitors to the area

    Hope this helps


  5. Some interesting thoughts there and interesting designs too.

    Ultimately I think the main thing to bear in mind is to focus on the needs of users and nail the common things that most people use the website for first. Then move on to the more esoteric things and sharpen them up.

    Everything else will flow from there.

    As to customisation, probably a sucking eggs scenario here but the best thing I find is to make sure the defaults you choose are the most useful so that for people not inclined to customise etc. their homepage have the pages set up to work optimally with virtually no further fiddling.

    This was a major reason why at Worthing we didn’t use the sign in/log in route for customisation, we used cookies because it was much less of a put off.

    So far apart from a few reported glitches and user error, I have only had one person say it was unnecessary. (I pointed out clicking the Hide button would shove it all out the way and then the issue was solved, personalisation see :)) but from the other comments on it, the reports have been glowing.

    I guess people just like knowing when their bins are collection right from the homepage!

    Good luck with your endeavours!

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