Thursday, 20 December 2012

Where's LocalGov Digital?

Where would you base a LocalGov Digital service or network, a practitioner group that's aligned with local government's sector-led improvement agenda?

London? Edinburgh? Manchester? Birmingham?

People often refer to Local Government but in truth they should probably say Local Governments. This is because each Local Government has a unique political make-up, voted for by the residents of the respective Parish, District or County.

Decisions about local public services and how they're delivered are made by elected representatives, locally. This means that each have a different set of services and objectives.

Local Governments also consult on thousands of issues each year, and the results can vary by area. This also affects the services that they provide and how they deliver them.

As a result, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for digital services, given no council is alike.

I've often read things like, "I worked in Local Government for five years, I know about it.". Unless you work in a Local Government now, you don't.

Cuts to funding, redundancies and shared services have changed things radically in the past couple of years and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Not a criticism, just a statement of fact.

So, getting back to the question, where's LocalGov Digital? It's in London, in Hackney and Camden, but it's also in Bristol, Cornwall, Devon, Derbyshire, Kent , Kirklees, Lichfield,  Liverpool, Monmouthshire, North Yorkshire, South Cambridgeshire, Surrey, Swansea Walsall and West Berkshire

In fact it's promoting innovation in every local authority (as someone clever than I from Derbyshire once said) because that's where the decisions on local services are made and that's where the expertise to deliver them is.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

When the grit the fan

Last Friday there was something of a gritstorm in Barnsley when local residents took to http://www.facebook.com/wearebarnsley to post their thoughts about how the council was handling the rapidly changing weather conditions.

This post isn’t in any way a criticism of the council, more a couple of observations about what all of local government can learn from this.

1) Manage unrealistic expectations.

There seemed to be a feeling from a vocal minority of residents that not only should the council grit every road (more specifically their road) and clear every pavement in the whole district.

A few claimed they “weren’t getting the service they paid for” when, from what I read, the council seemed to be delivering just that.

Perhaps councils should define services such as this in a quick and easy to read format online. I’m thinking of a few bullet points that take 30 seconds to read with a link to more information. It could prove invaluable in situations such as the one described above.

2) Engage with community sites and pages.

It’s no revelation to say that pages on Facebook and other social sites are rapidly becoming the new local media. What’s also changing is that pages such as this are also becoming a customer services for local public services.

Some of the questions asked on We Are Barnsley were along the lines  of “Is bus X running”, “Is road X gritted or open” and might usually be directed at the police, council or transport companies.

Engaging with those who run these pages would not only make sure that the information is more likely to be correct but actually could create more capacity in council customer services. We live in a time where some are having to think radically about re-shaping council services and effectively getting a partner to run digital customer services at little cost perhaps could be an option.

If you haven’t got an equivalent of We Are Barnsley yet, you will have in the next few years so now’s the time to start planning and talking to those who might be looking to run such a service.

If you’d like to discuss this then you can find me @PhilRumens

Monday, 3 December 2012

Local Gov On The Go

In October we launched the mobile version of our site. It’s really a stopgap until we kick off a proposed project to redevelop our digital services, next year.

Now we’re in December we’ve got a full month’s stats too look. Here are some of the findings:


Volume
Around 28% of users accessed our mobile site, compared to our main site. That’s much larger than I would have thought even six months ago and justifies the week or so we spend creating the mobile site. If you haven’t got a mobile or site built around responsive design, you really need to start thinking about it.


Pages
Users on the main site looked at an average of 4.34 pages, whilst those on the mobile site looked at 1.83.

There are many ways you could interpret this, but perhaps one might be that mobile users are often looking for one specific thing, whereas fixed users might be searching for a variety of information.

What backs this up is the structure and main page content of the two sites are identical, it’s just the extras and the design that are different.


Browsing Time
Main site users spent on average 15 minutes on the site, mobile users just under 7.


Top Pages
Whilst some of the usual suspects such as school term dates and vacancies appear top of the most viewed pages for the mobile site, the most notable omission is Planning Applications.

The other main difference is that information about specific locations appear much higher, for example one of our waste recycling centres is in the top 10 and our nature discovery centre is not too far behind, in November when they see their visitor numbers decrease due to the weather.

Parking appears higher up too on the mobile site.


Conclusion
There’s no major surprises here. People look at less stuff, for a shorter amount of time and it’s more likely to relate to a physical location but it’s good data to support the case for spending time getting your mobile site right.

Oh, and one more stat if you’re interested, over 65% of mobile site users used an Apple device.


If you'd like to discuss this then you can find me at https://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.