FaceGov

I’ve read with interest the articles/blog posts (listed at the bottom of this post) about the interesting move by Takeo City in Japan, who have made the bold decision to move their entire council website to facebook.

On face value it would be easy to argue that this is a very bold move and one which will signal a new revolution in how councils around the world decide the future fate of their corporate websites…..

Or

You could argue that they have taken the easier and slightly more riskier approach and put faith in Mark Zuckerberg who is now in some strange way their website provider? What service level do they have with him, what happens when facebook change their terms and conditions and it becomes somewhere people avoid…what about google plus…twitter, linkedin….amazon even…

Or

You could argue that they lack ambition, strategy and execution to resolve the issues that they state are the reasons behind the move…

Takeo officials said move to Facebook is due to the difficulties to share information in the existing website while the city page on Facebook provides citizens with engagement options through it’s “like” buttons, comments, messaging and chat.

”For this reason, there was some opposition as it would limit access to city information for some citizens. But since we were considering the shift, Facebook changed its rules to make pages viewable to anybody, and from that point on it was a go.”

Now I’m not a huge fan of big corporate Content Management Platforms, but I am aware that with very little money and some good tactical choices you could easily build in engagement directly into a corporate platform….after all the UK Government is doing this in some of its sites already…..AlphaGov, Number 10 etc

Another reason cited was that the Mayor wasn’t keen on receiving comments on the main website from people who use anonymous names and handles. This is an interesting point of view and one for which i do sympathise but you could consider facebook connect, open ID, which could achieve similar outcomes. Is this reason enough to move your entire website across to facebook….

An interesting side benefit which I’ve yet to read is that I’m sure it is far easier for the council to manage a facebook page than a traditional council website…the cost is free, the platform is social, it is easy to publish, the residents are “likely” to be online and they don’t have to deal with ICT colleagues (just kidding 🙂 ), they can avoid the “press release” home page, they have a mobile version as well as apps etc which present there data….I can see that the decision for some people was probably easier than it should have been.

But what about transactions, what about insight and analytic’s, what about customer experience and brand reputation…after all every page is still under the Facebook logo…but maybe that doesn’t matter anymore…

One of the interesting aspects of this move is that Takeo have started a discussion about why council websites need to exist and what role they should serve…Andrea Di Maio of Gartner states:

…..The point is that it is possible to get rid of the web site, and even more of those government portals that aim at providing a life event view of services and information to citizens and enterprises and almost inevitably fail to model access the way people do expect or need it.

Think about it.

  • Citizens who are occasional, infrequent users of a government website or portal, will most likely search for what they need: whether on an external search engine (more likely) or on the web site itself, they are not looking for a fancy, consistent interface that takes them through the “logical” steps, but just for effective search results.
  • Citizens who are more regular users, as they have periodic administrative obligations or have the right to periodic benefits, may either use intermediaries or expect those interactions to be modeled around what they see as the “logical” steps (e.g. integrated with their on-line banking access as well as their social networking connections) rather than what government believes are the logical steps.
  • Small business are likely to behave like the citizens above, while larger businesses want to run applications that do integrate with web services provided by the relevant authorities they interact with, so they are not likely to be interested in the web sites either.
  • Last but not least, anything that smells “participation” or “engagement” needs to take place on a mainstream social media platform, possibly on the citizens’ own virtual turf (i.e. their groups, their blogs, their Facebook pages) rather than on the governments’ one.

Now in part I kind of agree with the spirit of what Andrea says but the Takeo example for me is not the answer and nor is removing local government websites altogether….

We do need to rethink what local government websites do and how they are built from the bottom up to allow for much more interaction, openness and transparency.

I’d like to think that the data and content can sit anywhere but is managed from a single place….moving to facebook should not be a permanent option but “renting” or simply “having an enhanced presence” certainly seems sensible.

Related posts:

Going under the hood of a revised web architecture – federated search

I have on many occasion referred to a number of approaches in developing a web strategy for Devon, these can be found via the following links:

However, it isn’t often we get to hear or read about what or even how some of these grand visions actually get played out in terms of technology approaches , so I thought i’d share a few thoughts from a colleague of mine (Stian Sigvartsen) who works as an application analyst and is currently looking into a revised web architecture.

Stian’s post Achieving a federated single view of the customer (Caution – the post does contain some detailed technology descriptions. ) shares his learning from a pilot project using Liferay portal technology. Stian focuses on a particular challenge we have here which is search and has seen the portal approach as a way to deliver a federated search strategy, whilst maintaining information security.

 

Building the “Local” website, not a council website

I have been thinking about council websites, specifically around the issues of – whether we need them, what management of them should look like, how we structure them, and which audiences we are really trying to serve. Some of this was prompted by an excellent post by Sarah Lay from Derbyshire on “Do Councils need websites” and some by various conversations that have been happening recently and building on from a previous post of mine about social media points the way for corporate website development.

I started to wonder what council websites would look like and how they would have evolved, if we didn’t have the drive from eGovernment, to make all of our services (including information) 100% e-enabled.  I’m sure some would have developed into real community based websites and portals with a good blend of transactional service and online community. My key point here is, without any external pressure, would councils have taken a more community based approach to their websites instead of being forced to deliver services online that offered no value initially.

The Better Connected Review by SocITM has helped drive forward the development of sites in a consistent way, identifying good practice and leading councils, but i’m wondering whether the focus has been too much on “Council Service” and not enough on “Community Service”.

I think it might be good if i try and explain what i perceive to be the simple differences between “Council” and “Community” in a website context. I’m sure this is pretty obvious but i think it needs saying.

Council: A politically driven site, with information about all of the councils services and access to online transactions.

Community: an issue led, community driven site, with information about the local area, to share issues and to build community relationships.

Ok, they are crude and i’m sure most will agree that some councils websites are attempting to do both. But should they? and if so does it work under a “.gov.uk” domain?

My view is that we seem to be operating from a perspective that says “council websites must have a strong presence online in our local area”. I think this view is fundamentally flawed.

I live in a community, and my local councils (City and County) are only a part of that community – it includes other public sector bodies (Police, Fire, Health etc), other residents, other professionals, trades people, shop owners and all the other wonderful people who make up communities.

In a community site, local participation and dialogue makes more sense then it does on a council site. To be honest, who goes to the council offices for a casual meeting with their friends and starts talking about “stuff” that bothers them in their community. I don’t and i don’t know anyone who does, but i do know many people who converse in places they feel comfortable, community places, cafe’s, pubs, outside schools, in the street, online in social networks – everywhere except the council offices.

So starting from that viewpoint, a “local website” would need to include all of those factors and considering the pressures on Public Sector Budgets, why are Public Sector Web Professionals battling to do all of it and in most cases failing to deliver any of it. I’m certainly not undermining my web professional peers as i was Web Manager for 6 years and it was a bloody hard job and i never got the site how i would have wanted to see it for the people of Devon. This was due to the conflicting pressures of what people wanted, or we found out they wanted through surveys and consultations and what the council wanted to do in terms of political PR, communications and reputation management. I can see both sides and both are legitimate and in fact, it is sometimes possible to balance both views, but not all of the time.

Shouldn’t we take the same approach as we do in the “real” world and position our information and services as part of the community and not expect people (and i include myself here) to have to visit a local council website to access information or perform a transaction. I include another reference to a previous post about mashing up council websites altogether “social media points the way for corporate website development“. After all aren’t councils and public sector bodies just as much part of the community as everyone else?

Maybe, and i can’t really believe i am saying this but it tends to make more sense to me (if you disagree please tell me as i feel i’ve gone to the dark side with this one) why don’t we develop and support more than one site. I’ll explain how i would see this working and why i think it will be where we have to go but i’m also happy to be challenged. So i’ll start with a straw man and share my thinking.

The following breakdown does not assume that these are all physically separated in terms of content. They could all be hosted centrally, to enable data reuse etc.  However with search engines supporting and moving toward more of a federated approach and a search integration platform, as in linking information across systems, it doesn’t assume they are all in the same system either.

  1. Public Sector site : this would acknowledge that people are citizens and therefore need opportunities to participate, feedback and be part of service design and development across all public sector organisations. This would essentially be a “total place” view and would probably link to most Local Strategic Partnerships etc and provide information on the priorities, performance, meetings, minutes, webcasts etc.
  2. Community Site: this would provide all of the community information right down to the hyper local context. It would also include the transactions of all the public sector bodies so that people could access information and services as part of their normal routine and conversations. This element would also provide the links and integration with either public social networks such as twitter and Facebook as well as hosted community networks.

The challenge with the above is “who starts it all off”? Well some areas already have very well-developed community sites, and we ought to engage with those sites much more, very much like the approach people talk about with Social Media, we need to reach out to already existing networks and contribute in those instead of building empty places where no one wants to come. That leaves the council site, this would mean radically reducing the “huge amounts of content” that exists within the “.gov.uk” domain and pushing most of it into community sites either through mash-ups, RSS or other means. That way we could work with communities to take over the ownership of local content and Public Sector Web Professionals could focus on just the content that needs to be their from a public sector point of view.

I appreciate this is all very much “a dream” but i’m convinced that over the coming years the pervasive nature of social media, alongside the need to reduce costs, will mean that we will inevitably need to refocus what councils websites offer and why they are there and how we can ensure that what we do provide online is used and embraced by the local community.

So what does this mean for website management? – well in my opinion, we have an opportunity to bring together the expertise within a local area and provide a “shared” service or a “combined” service for public sector organisations. It will mean that we need to think more about aligning across organisations, focusing more on the actual communities we serve. Some councils are starting to do this internally around shared internal services such as HR, Finance etc. So we are already in the arena of shared intranets across multiple organisations – this is simply the next logical step.

This also gives greater emphasis in my opinion on the need to create and support the development of Public Sector Web Professionals across the board –  development, learning, competencies, networking etc.

All of the above will require strong leadership from across the public sector as well as third sector partners, if we want to deliver excellent opportunities,  services and information locally.  Directgov has shown that consolidation across a sector is possible (albeit painful) but it does deliver a better interface into Central Government. So there is hope.