What is the purpose of a local authority website then….

I have been reading with much interest a number of posts on Public Sector Forums and a particular post on Paul Canning’s Blog relating to the role and purpose of council websites.   It appears that we seem to have lost our way, perhaps trying to please everyone, other than our main audience – The council tax paying public.

Paul suggests:

The 10 point plan’

1. Findability
2. Disengagement from the wider web and those damned walled gardens
3. Engaging the industry
4. Marketing
5. Widgetising services
6. Engaging the local
7. Cheaper usability methods
8. Content
9. Fixations on ‘engagement’
10. Utilising reputation

I think this is the most interesting question raised for sometime, as it have been an underlying theme in the debate with Socitm about its “Better Connected” report which for the last 10 years as passed judgement and “rated” local authority websites. Now i’m NOT saying this has been a waste of time because it hasn’t, but i think we need to refocus and decide what the benchmark actually is, and be consistent with it.  Having a year on year “subjective” evaluation about what makes a perfect council website and what is good and bad about particular sites is losing value in my humble opinion.

We need to agree perhaps using the Socitm, Public Sector Forums and Public Sector Web Management Group, what a model council website looks and feels like to a citizen.  This is not an easy task and it maybe an impossible question to answer, but could be worthwhile on a year by year basis, setting a benchmark. This would be even better if this was based on what real people thought of council websites and not what the government thinks we should do with council websites.

What i believe this would give myself as a web manager is where people have differed and what they have done differently and more importantly how?  It would also highlight who has pushed the boundaries and who has tried new and exciting things. This would be a report which i feel would have value to me as a web manager and to my organisation in terms of how we compare?

But one last thing, a report of this type can never and should never substitute what actual and real people say about our site via formal feedback methods.