Thursday, 10 November 2011

LocalGov Websites the Next Generation

Not so long ago most websites were generally created to do one just thing, to publish the same information to the same people at the same time. Improvements in line speed, browser functionality and Internet availability mean that these days websites are generally used for two more tasks, service delivery and user engagement. One website isn’t enough for many medium to large organisations, some having multiple web presences each aimed at different audiences.

Recently I’ve been looking at how this could be reflected in what local authorities offer online and have come to the conclusion there are two distinct groups who might access a council website, customers and citizens. With this in mind I looked at how a site could be created for each type of user, in effect splitting an existing site into two.

The initial concept of the sites should be simple. The customer wants easy access to services or service information and to be able carry out what they came to the site for as quickly as possible. The site would be organised around service tasks and types.

Some residents on the other had might want to find an event, see local news or discuss things with their council or other local people and this is who the citizen website would cater for. Integrating with Facebook through the use of Open Graph tags and social plug-ins, as well as pulling in content from Twitter and RSS could create a real community resource.

Of course they’ll be crossover, the customer who wants to discuss refuse collection or the citizen who just wishes to find out what’s happening at her local library at the weekend, but on the whole I think the concept is sound. If it wasn’t it wouldn’t be so prevalent in the private sector.

So they’ll be two sites, with two roles but this doesn’t mean they should be entirely self contained, in fact separating content might even increase engagement. Let’s say a customer comes to the service centric site to report a pothole in their road, they have no intention of looking at news or events. They find the service they need quickly thanks to the site being lean and task driven however once they’ve reported the we can display targeted content about their area and the subject we know they have an interest in. This would be much like the “you may also like” functionality that many commercial sites work.

Of course these are fairly general ideas and they would be far from simple to implement, however with the right resources, enthusiasm and buy-in perhaps this could be the next generation of local authority websites.

You thoughts on these ideas are always welcome and the best way to contact me is at http://twitter.com/#!/PhilRumens
This blog is written by Phil Rumens, Vice-Chair of LocalGov Digital, lead for LGMakers and who manages the digital services team at a local authority in England.

The opinions expressed in this weblog are my own personal views and in no way represent any organisation I may have worked for, currently work for, might be thinking of working for, might not be thinking of working for or have never worked for. In fact having said that they, might not even be my views any more as I might have changed my mind so I wouldn't take any of it too seriously.