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.
The 10 point plan’
2. Disengagement from the wider web and those damned walled gardens
3. Engaging the industry
5. Widgetising services
6. Engaging the local
7. Cheaper usability methods
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.
Paul Canning has posted an excellent and interesting post on whether the web and ICT should be the same, or at least be managed within the ICT function. Dave Briggs also posted on the subject and supports Paul’s View.
I have a slightly different view and one which perhaps works in larger organisations (after all i work in a large county council)
- Paul says:
Web skills are very specific, you need to be across a lot of terrain. You need to understand SEO, usability, web content, have good people skills, be across various and ever changing IT, visual design, accessibility, marketing, PR … Even the very best IT managers don’t have this skill range so they can’t make informed decisions or informed choices across the range of issues which constitute good and most importantly successful web.
- Dave comments:
Indeed, I would add a couple of bits to Paul’s list about webbies needing to be excellent communicators, and maybe a real interest in policy is important too.
I would like to add the following view to this discussion.
Whilst i support some aspects of what Paul suggests which is i don’t think that ICT should manage and run the web as a whole, the skills required are far beyond traditional ICT departments.
However i believe that the web should be mainstreamed into the whole organisation and ICT are a key enabler in that process. I also believe that corporate web managers will no longer be required in the format they are currently employed becuase of the same reasons ICT are not the best people to manage it. I don’t think one single person can be responsible for all the areas that are now required to manage and maintain and effective web channel within local government.
I believe that it is essential and the only sustainable way to mainstream the web if that the right areas of the business manage there expertise area. It is also worth including that sitting above this you need strong governance process and systems to ensure that this actually functions strategically and operationally.
My previous post “do we really need web managers” highlights some of the main areas that web managers would be expected to be responsible for, i have included them below with some additional context
- Technology and Innovation – we are perhaps fortunate that our corporate ICT function has a team of Enterprise Architects who are there to look at the strategic business architecture which would include the web, but also looks at the latest innovations and how they can support and deliver business benefits, web 2.0 is one area that this team will look at. This woudl also include policy at a strategic level, but each area would include policy aspects which would need interlinking
In terms of operational web development, this is provided by our in-house development team who do the actual programming etc.
- Content (text, image, video, audio etc) – for me this the bread and butter of websites and is mostly driven by communications and marketing people across the council, but also involves web editors and publishers. what we need here though is a content strategy which highlights all content amd which channel it needs to be delivered to. This is wider than just websites
- Information Management (SEO, metadata and taxonomy) – we are again fortunate perhaps to ahve a strategic intelligence unit who are the experst in this filed and in effect act as information architects. We also have a tool which helps us tag our pages with correct metadata and contributes to the taxonomy management
- Services (what people come to do – the tasks!) – this has been the drive of eGovernment for the last few years and continues to be the main focus of websites now, but it driven by customer services and service managers looking to provide alternative channel of access for services. But we need to put the right service in the right channel if they are to be used.
- Design/usability – a visual framework by which people navigate, search and perform information and search requests. This is a design function and in terms of framework is easy to manage but overall design needs to compliment the organisational brand, a communications and marketing role.
- Marketing/Communications – a critical aspect of local government websites but not really exploited to the degree it should be. you need users to enage online to achieve the claimed efficiences that are bounded about by many people.
One last thought is that the original post by Paul cited Richard Steele, SOCITM’s President as stating ICT should run the lot, well to be honest i think this is a narrow and flawed view and that the only way to move forward is as an organisation, which collectively uses the web as any other channel.