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… ūüôā

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Integrating social with your corporate website – localgov style!

I’ve been managing, albeit slowly, to catch up on the many blogs, documents, videos etc I’ve saved for “later” (the joy of owning an iPad in my view).

Anyway I was very interested in this webinar that was funded by¬†Janrain¬†and¬†Badgeville that the Altemeter Group’s ¬†Jeremiah Owyang gave some excellent insights into¬†How to Integrate Social Into Your Website:

I’ve embedded the webinar below, it is well worth watching.

It got me thinking about how far a local authority or public sector website can actually integrate social into its corporate website without it looking, well “crap” for the want of a better word.

I’m not aware of any examples of seamless “social” integration within a public sector corporate website in the UK (yet) to the level that Jeremiah suggests, but progress is being made which is reassuring across a range of aspects and I guess that priorities are different wherever you go.

I do think that utah.gov‘s approach to some of its “social” and “mobile” provision is something that we in the UK could certainly learn from and adapt. I won’t comment on the site as a whole as it didn’t actually seem to work very well in google chrome, so reverted back to Firefox to check out content. I think it is fair to say that I suspect that the broadband speed in Utah are much better than they are within Rural England, so perhaps large images load fast for their core audience.

Despite the initial challenges to accessing the site, I did find some very good things which I’d love to see developed further (note not replicated) here in Devon, for example¬†Utah Collaborate¬†sets a nice tone but doesn’t quite go far enough to really be about “collaboration” however it is better than most if not all things I’ve seen elsewhere (NB: I’ve not done formal research in this area and my visits to websites have been random)

The collaborate idea could be a great platform for linked data and service design as well as a space for developers to show of their apps or services directly to the end users…I think if we created a much better relationship to our local developer community the whole collaborate idea would be about how other people can develop our services with or without us better than we can, thus saving money.

Utah, have got something which sort of creates a foundation for this alongside the collaborate space and that is Utah Widgets. I think that this has huge potential for people to hack data sets and create widgets based on their preferences, I’m sure Utah have a roadmap for this kind of thing, but what would be good would be to see a range of community data sets includes alongside the ones provided already and the widget space become a “mash-up” centre in a similar way the Knowledge Hub plans to provide this function for the UK Public sector as a whole.

Finally I do like the way that they integrate Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms within the site and don’t initially send people off away from the corporate site – this is a key lesson I think we can all learn from.

On a separate but linked note, the way that the online services and transactions are promoted on Utah is not something I feel would encourage people to interact online….but the social aspects are good….the reality is the online services are where the costs savings are.

A new kind of Council Web Strategy

You should know that the local authority web manager has a pretty hard job and is often stuck in between a rock and a hard place. Often with no budget, no resources, but yet still required to manage a service delivery platform, communications platform and a citizen engagement channel. How do i know this, well i used to be one.

Anyway i wonder whether the strategies that are created for local authority websites (i am assuming that some are created here) are focusing on the right thing?

The reason i say this is that i often hear that local authority web managers and web teams have issues around web ownership, web governance, web resources and acceptance by the wider organisation that the corporate web site is a key access channel and so on. So what should change for this mind set to be different.

What i think we need is a strategy for the web channel that actually talks about “Exploiting” the channel for business benefit and value creation and not a strategy that focuses on how we will build it, what technology we will use and what level of security we will apply. These are of course very important things but in my view should actually be contained within your organisations ICT Technical Strategies and not within the web strategy.

So what would a Strategy for exploiting the web look like?

I recently read a book called “Fruition” by Chris Potts and it was a very good read, it is actually about the wider ICT agenda but there are major lessons for web and web strategists as well as corporate strategists.¬† I recommend reading it if you are remotely interested in ICT, Web and Technology in organisations. The following is an extract about the book:

The Scenario

What happens when corporate strategists decide to take over the IT agenda, ignore all the IT Strategy orthodoxies and use it in ways that the IT specialists never intended? What are the consequences for the strategy, the Chief Information Officer (CIO), the company’s IT people and the investment plans for IT?

Whilst reading the book i also thought about the lack of this kind of strategy during the eGovernment¬† Agenda and it made me think about the current Government ICT Strategy –¬† Are we creating the wrong kind of strategy again? I think we do need a strategy for how we will implement technologies and decide what technologies to use and adopt and whether we will use cloud services or develop and Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), but it seems to me that what we lack and maybe one of the real reasons ICT has not aligned itself with the business is because it struggles to present its strategies in terms of exploitation and value creation.

I used the example in the book and made a quick and dirty attempt at a generic web strategy for any local authority and this is what i came up with. (If you read the book, you will notice i haven’t really changed that much).

The challenge of course is to work within your organisation to make this strategy work. I recommend you read the book to understand the journey and implications of developing this kind of strategy within the wider ICT environment. But i think if you do those things you will end up in the same place and will want to move forward with this kind of strategy.

This is not yet a reflection of the County Council Web Strategy and there would be a little bit of work to do before we could get this adopted, but this is not a major challenge and will be something i will work toward. It is of course a completely different way to look a strategy in local government and one which i think will make us more corporate and work towards the agreed priorities and direction that the council has set in the strategic plan.

Local Authority Web Strategy

Strategy Promise (outcome)

  • We will maximise the value we create for citizens, staff and stakeholders from all our investments in the Internet, digital technologies and the World Wide Web (WWW).

Key Principles (truths)

  • Our strategies and business plans depend, in part on us successfully exploiting the use of the Internet and the World Wide Web.
  • Value is a portfolio of measures and is whatever the Council‚Äôs strategies and operating plans say it is.
  • Each directorate/department is accountable for the value their part of the organisation creates from investments in the internet and WWW.
  • The Internet and WWW is a multi-disciplined function and service platform and requires a collaborative and unified approach to achieve value.
  • The Corporate Web Manager is accountable for the total value that the organisation creates from all our new investments in business change involving the Internet and WWW.

Core tactics (actions)

  • Plan and execute our investments in exploiting the web by starting with value creation and working backwards
  • Focus our investments in exploiting the web on those types of value that are vital to our strategies and where we can make the highest contribution
  • At business unit and corporate levels, proactively manage the total impact of change made from investments in the Internet and WWW.
  • The Corporate Web Manager should lead on Internet and WWW development and activity.