The “local government” website

I haven’t blogged for a while now and that isn’t because I don’t have anything to say, in fact the opposite. I have so many things in my head it’s about knowing what to get down first really. So apologies for the long post…I won’t take offence if you don’t read on… 🙂

My new role is very interesting and also very busy, which also contributes to the lack of posts, but this is something I want to resolve as I think it is an important part of my role to sharing thinking and seek feedback on how we can approach certain areas of our work.

An immediate priority for my team is the Corporate Website and Intranet, they are in pretty bad shape and need a good tidy up in terms of data, documents, content etc as well as a complete reboot from the bottom up in terms of technology and infrastructure. One example of how bad the public website has got is that we identified 44,000 pdf documents which make up around 80% of the total size of the website…personally I feel this can be traced back to when we worked on eGovernment and it was deemed acceptable to “bung” up pdf’s as an alternative to actually providing a meaningful and useful service…some even called it  an “acceptable cheat” to meeting the BV157 indicator…but that is history and we are where we are…so my team and some colleagues have started work on reducing that size, by understanding what each pdf is, whether it needs to be published at all (is it current) or whether it needs to be moved to our records management system.

The key principle we are applying is our content management system should not be the place for these documents, so as long as they aren’t in there we are making progress… The ideal scenario of course, as I’m sure some of you are thinking “no documents on the website, that is mad, how will you do that?” is that we use the appropriate technology for the job, so documents reside in a document management system and are presented to the website via an integration or web service in some way… This really is simple stuff, but it never happened when we first moved to a Content Management system about 10 years ago…

Anyway we are making progress, albeit slowly but we have had to overcome some very simple but significant issues around ownership and access which has resulted recently (last week in fact) in a very good and consistent understanding around the role of my team in and around the web.

The bigger challenge of course is working out and agreeing what we believe the purpose and business strategy should be for a local government website.

Now for some this may seem a pretty simple question and one which I really shouldn’t be spending much time on, but it really is the most fundamental thing a local council should do before developing, building or even investing in a new website and the technology that it runs on…

I believe this question isn’t as simple as it used to be since the consultation on Open Public Services White Paper. Now the interesting thing with this is  – and some of it I agree with in principle but in practice, I’m not sure how that would play out – is that it actually means that local government would essentially disappear…we would have no obligation or responsibility to deliver any service at all… Now when you think about that, for a moment….it is actually quite dramatic change and one which local councils have not yet articulated or perhaps understood… many are seeing the decentralisation as a positive thing which will reinforce their position but I’m not sure the paper actually has the same outcome in mind as current local government colleagues think.

So when you consider a local government website in that situation what is it? A yellow pages of local services really…not an all-encompassing site with service transactions and top tasks or whatever the latest fad is for the local government homepage…it is simply a searchable directory of services which clearly and I think this is the critical part in local accountability shows who is responsible and who to complain to when something goes wrong…

It is almost like Amazon, except we won’t have anything of our own in it to sell…

That is of course quite an extreme view and not a logical conclusion but it is certainly one potential outcome which fundamentally changes the purpose of a local government website…my questions is are we adaptable enough to change as quickly as we need to?… Currently we are nowhere near that level of agility and adaptability…but we are heading in that direction.

Coming back to Amazon model (the current model), I actually believe this is more likely the representation of how local government website will and should work. For example you go online, search the website for a product/service and you get a range of options (choice in Coalition Government terms) from a variety of suppliers (diversity in Coalition Government terms).  You as the consumer of that service get to choice which option or provider you wish to purchase from and it clearly states whether or not this will be fullfilled by Amazon or by someone in their marketplace (Accountability in Coalition Government terms).

So when it comes to writing a web strategy, we also need to consider the “marketplace” and how that impacts on the development of a website and its infrastructure and core technology…We would actually become an integration hub instead of a primary service provider… That changes the proposition of a council website and any investment plan considerably.

Another angle which has recently been floating in my mind is the role of a local authority website as an economic development tool…not entirely by itself but more the data and information being freely available for other to commercially benefit from.  I like the approach being built on beta gov, which allows a user to download the data used to make and create that page…

To go back a bit for context – when I first started in local government web around 8 years ago, my ambition was that the councils website was the best, had the best functionality, best little widgets, best information, the best of everything…just like all other web managers I’m sure…However now and I’m not sure if this is age related or simply #lazyweb taking over my thinking or the episode of The Simpson’s where Homer runs for Sanitation Commissioner offering the new slogan “Can’t Someone Else Do It?”.

But why should local councils develop their website alone…why can’t we open the whole thing up and allow local developers, businesses etc and develop on top of our platform as well as using the data to build things that are meaningful for people… Well we can, there isn’t really anything stopping us other than the infrastructure and technology as well as the data….so just a few minor things to resolve then…

I know that no matter how hard you try as a web manager in local government, you’ll never consistently develop anything that is really that good (no disrespect to fellow web managers/developers out there, who do build some great individual things). But the challenge is making all this stuff a priority in a council balanced against resources who are looking at maintain an Adult Social care system or developing a small widget to search bus timetables…i know which one the organisation would want done first…

AlphaGov are doing some great things but we can’t compete with that level of investment or resources, so I’m hoping what they build, learn and develop will be reusable to the whole public sector community…not as one big thing but in small modules/widgets etc that can add value locally.

So I come back to a web strategy and the purpose of a local authority website…it doesn’t really seem straight forward, but it certainly is an interesting area to work right now.

 

 

 

 

 

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A bit about Devon Grapevine – a local success

The great thing about a new job is you get to hear about lots of interesting things that as a council we have been involved in supporting.  Once such example is Devon Grapevine.

What is the Devon Grapevine?

Devon Grapevine is an online network for people from different cultures, living in Devon.

Why was the Devon Grapevine set up?

In 2009, the Safer Devon Partnership commissioned the Olive Tree Association to carry out the Community Safety Mapping Project (CSMP). Over 250 people from minority ethnic communities were interviewed across rural Devon. Areas of concern raised by inerviewees included health, crime and education. Devon Grapevine was set up to respond to these areas of concern.

What can the Devon Grapevine offer individual members?

  • a one-stop shop for information and advice about living in Devon
  • an online place to meet and share experiences with others from minority ethnic backgrounds living in Devon
  • direct contact with organisations through messaging, forums, and scheduled chat sessions.
So why is this interesting, well one of the key successes in my eyes is that before this site, a community like this didn’t exist, people were disconnected from each other.
Now there are over 250 people representing over 40 different cultural backgrounds and most if not all have actually met each other offline at what they call “meet and eat” sessions…these are simply a way for the group to come together and connect.
Approximately 80% of content is user-generated, with the facilitator providing a steer and direction on some issues.
Now this presents lots of opportunities not only for the newly formed community but for public service providers in Devon…however as a starting point and as one model it is a great place to be.
If you wanted proof that stuff like this could happen, then this, in my humble opinion is a good starting place.

WordPress just got even more funky

I was so pleased to read that WordPress have announced that you can now embed google docs and calendars into WordPress

This is such a good feature that I actually believe we will start to see lots more use of “on the edge” WordPress sites as well as more mainstream sites within the public sector and in particular making use of the great features found in google docs. There are many opportunities here that I’m actually quite excited 🙂

To demonstrate this great new feature I have embedded a google spreadsheet which was collating data from a form about the use of WordPress within the UK Public Sector.

Update: If you know of any more WordPress powered sites then please submit them using the form below

Its always been about collaboration

A collection of thoughts went through my mind when I scanned this presentation on slideshare…

My first set of thoughts focused on a set of products and or tools, two  in particular popped into my mind:

NB: There are other tools and products available, but these were two which were on my mind at the time of thinking.

Both tools clearly have a primary focus, but in the context of progressing towards Collaborative Enterprises, which is moving beyond Social Business. They have a common purpose – provide tools which equip the organisation with components to progress towards being a Collaborative Enterprise.

My second set of thoughts were about how the skills of collaboration are fostered in society.  My children who are aged 6 and 4 and both in school are always talking about how they worked with their friends or other classes (or even other schools) to deliver a class project.

So collaboration is an essential part of education and learning – that isn’t really news, but it is interesting because when you arrive in work, in most cases, your collaboration opportunities are reduced and you are restricted to poor channels of collaboration and are even forced into particular processes which do not resemble anything you have previously encountered.

My third set of thoughts were about how the progress made on all things social is merely a short-term distraction on our way toward Collaborative Enterprises.

In my experience within Local Government, the word “Social” is often counter productive and I have always preferred the term Business networking instead of social networking – semantics, I know, but it is important. However what we really need to get right is how the collaborative processes of the organisation are either supporting of hindering progress with social tools, that will be the best place to start if you wish to change your organisation.

The word “social” is over used in a lot of terms now and I’m not personally convinced that everyone using it, understands what the implications and impact is – it is also complicated by terms like social business, as this could sound similar to social enterprise, in terms of meaning but this is a completely different context.

My final set of thoughts were about how the presentation misses one key component that I believe any collaborative enterprise will possess and understand and that is Gamification. There are huge opportunities to bring together the skills and approaches of games into the design and architectures of organisations to create truly Collaborative Enterprises.  This is still a new area of thinking for me, but it is something I want to explore more of in the coming months and years.

 

Facilitating a Social Media Strategy

Updated: included wordle graphic

I’ve had quite a number of conversations  about social media strategy at the council recently,  as well as with a number of people via twitter and other networks.

So I thought I’d share my thinking on this and also share the strategy (co-developed by Martin Howitt) which I use to help others as well as a framework to developing a Social Media Action/Implementation Plan.

This is intended to be a reusable framework and strategy – as the detail and local variations will come in your own action plan.

To put this into context the council has already made significant progress around Social Media – In January 2010 the Council introduced a Social Media Policy and Guidelines which states:

Devon County Council is committed to making the best use of all available technology and innovation to improve the way we do business. This includes using all reasonable and cost-effective means to improve the way we communicate, reach out and interact with the different communities we serve.

It includes guidance around personal and professional responsibilities, using social media in different scenarios and key things to consider.

We don’t yet have a formal Social Media Strategy (yet), but the following is what I am personally using and promoting internally as a method and approach to adopting social media within our business operations.

The Strategy:
We will maximise the positive impact of our use of social media in support of the councils business aims and social objectives.

Principles:

  1. The use of social media, like anything else the organisation does, must be informed by business strategy and social objectives.
  2. Social technology does nothing on its own. To create value from social media, it is people and processes that must change.
  3. Becoming a truly social organisation will yield benefits in terms of sustainability, responsiveness, reputation, lower operating costs, and higher social impact.
  4. Social media can in theory pervade every part of the organisation’s value chain. But it should only do so if there are defined and (where possible) measurable positive business impacts.
  5. There is no such thing as a social media project: there are only business projects that utilise social media tools to some extent to achieve their objectives.
  6. A social media capability must therefore be built or adopted specifically to serve the objectives and current projects of the organisation.

Tactics:

  1. Identify which organisational processes / service areas which might use social software or social media tools
  2. For each process / service area – state the key objectives and outcomes
  3. List the available tools and their best-value use cases
  4. For each process/service area identified in (1), identify the most useful tools from (3) and map the potential benefits to objectives/outcomes in (2)
  5. Consolidate the list in (4) by channel and/or by organisational role.
  6. For each role identified in (5), evaluate the cost, benefits, and risks
  7. Create a prioritised portfolio of projects, expected benefits, and Key Performance Indicators based on the outputs of (6)

I appreciate that this may sound easier than it actually is, but to be honest if it were that easy everyone would be doing it and no one would have trouble justifying its use. If you can build this approach into the service business planning cycle you (as facilitator) and the service area will yield higher results in terms of potential Social Media projects supporting and delivering business outcomes – that is the theory anyway 🙂

As a starting point I’d recommend that you look at your own service area as well as highlighting or at least acknowledging other “high value” organisational processes which could benefit from this exercise, so that you can get familiar with the process and the level of understanding you will need around some of the tools and best value use cases.

It is worth trying to separate the cross cutting processes from the actual service areas for example “community engagement” might be a service area in your organisation as well as it being a cross cutting activity. In my opinion you are likely to identify a better value proposition looking at the cross cutting process of community engagement then the service itself.

In my Council a sample list might look something like this:

Process / Activity Areas

  • Community Engagement
  • Customer Service
  • Staff Engagement
  • Community Consultations
  • Staff Consultations
  • Personal and Self Directed Learning
  • Knowledge Sharing
  • Policy Development
  • Service Planning
  • Emergency Communications
  • Press and PR Relations

I’ve separated the activities of engagement and consultation on purpose as different social value can be created depending on your approach.  By tackling a cross cutting process or activity you can influence and impact a greater number and range of people who can add value when you start looking at this on a service perspective.

Service Areas

  • Trading Standards
  • Libraries
  • Road Safety
  • Highways (roads and traffic)
  • Waste Services
  • Registration Services

The reality here is I could have included a list of nearly all services, but you really need to stay focused and work on a service by service basis sometimes.

I envisage that the best approach would be a twin track approach –  During the prioritisation process outlined in stage 7 – try selecting one activity area alongside a service area to increase the organisational learning opportunities.

Hope this is helpful –  and I wish you luck….I’d be very keen to hear your stories on how this works or doesn’t for you.