Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Don't KO the kHub

Last Friday an email was sent stating “the LGA are proposing to close the Knowledge Hub facility” and over the weekend the vultures started to circle announcing the death of the platform.

It’s "rubbish and unusable" came a response from one person who doesn’t actually use the platform. It needs “a change of technology, a new business model, and some great community management” were the comments from another proposing to take it on.

I’ve also seen the kHub referred to as “failing” despite its 150,000+ users and I wondered what these comments were based on, other than personal user experience.

Monday was a Bank Holiday and as news started to filter through on Tuesday, many more of the kHub’s community managers and users started to voice their opinion and the picture seemed a little different.

“This has become a powerful tool for the users and is a perfect way for us to share best practice” said one community manager, in fact every post I’ve seen on the kHub, by kHub users has been positive towards the platform. Other comments talk of “so many examples of real collaborative working” and that “the KH is incredibly useful as the cheapest way of networking and learning from other professionals”.

I know from personal experience its worth, having started a community a couple of weeks ago (and a couple more over the past year) which is already resulting in collaboration between around ten councils, and listening to actual users, the kHub is far from being “rubbish and unusable” and already has some great community management going on.

I’ve no doubt that the current power grab will continue until the fate of the kHub is decided. I also know that the kHub can be improved, but let’s not throw away something that clearly does work in favour of something that might.

You have to ask yourself, why haven’t any proposed solutions already been developed if they’d be so much better than the existing kHub, but let’s use the current discussions as a catalyst  to help improve what already works for tens of thousands.

If you’re a kHub user, when more details of the consultation appear I urge you to make known your feelings about it to the LGA.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

How I learned to love the LGSL

Last week I wrote about why we're developing two websites one for council services, the other for information. Because we're writing new guidelines for content and changing the model we use for publishing, it seems an ideal opportunity to not just to review our existing content, but pretty much start again.

There’s some great content on our site and some that’s than less than good, which unfortunately is usually the result of a devolved content management model. This is something SocITM highlighted back in February of this year.

So given a clean slate, where would you start?

Everything on a council website should relate to a public service provided (whether provided or commissioned by the council or provided by another public body) in their area and there seems no better start than the Local Government List (LGSL).

Council websites seem to be abandoning the Local Government Navigation List (LGNL). I think that's probably the right move because as different authorities have varying priorities and serve demographics and geographies, there is no "one size fits all" taxonomy for council websites.

The ESD toolkit contains a mapping of LGSL by Interaction, which provides an easy way of deciding what content to populate our new sites with. Interaction Type 0 is Request for service, 8 is Information which fits in exactly with what we're trying to do. It's something other councils such as Barnsley have already done and provides a catalogue of council service with which to work from.

We won't be sticking rigidly to one entry, one page nor will there be a page for every entry in the list. We're a landlocked area, so it would be daft to include pages relating to the coast or ports for example.

So before you look at taxonomy, content style, service design, and if you're looking for a starting point and catalogue of content and services to define your council website rather than just revising what you already have, you could do much worse than use the LGSL.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

What is the purpose of the website?

Marc Snaith recently started a thread on the kHub about website redesign which is timely for me as today we formally launched a project to develop two new websites tasked with delivering digital services and information, to be completed over the next year.

For me, the most pertinent question in Marc’s post is “what is the purpose of the website”, and this was the catalyst behind why we’re creating two rather than one new site. For me, there’s a clear distinction between digital services and information, the former being doing stuff digitally, the later reading about stuff digitally. Retailers like Tesco understand this and have created a digital services site and an information site for shareholders and those interested in what the company does.

Though our current site has altered design since its inception in 2005, the basic premise of it being focused around delivering information to laptop and desktop devices hasn’t. This is why we’re creating two new sites because trying to deliver digital services, information, news, events, blogs, consultations and more to a multitude of devices well using one website.

The service site will offer quick access to our digital services, promoting top tasks but including as much as we can online not as a downloadable document, but a digital form. We also won’t expect people to have to wade through sixteen pages of guidance before they order a new bin.

Tom Steinberg wrote about how councils are websites in 2012 whilst this is quite a provocative assertion, in my view he’s saying for many, websites are now the public face councils which I agree with. If this is the case shouldn’t councils offer everything they can as a digital service? Promoting top tasks is fine, but using the comparison with retail, Tesco or Amazon would never just sell ten or twenty items online.

So that’s digital services, but what about information? The second site will focus on plain English, jargon free content and to help achieve this we’re changing our content publication model from devolved content management to a central team. This will enable us to do a lot more with content in terms it tagging it, allowing users to access it by various means, and moving towards the Semantic Web, but that’s another blog post.

We’ll also be creating new guidelines for authors, borrowing from or collaborating with those like Monmouthshire who have already written their own excellent guidelines.

I could go on (and probably will do in future) about why we’re looking at hybrid of Responsive and Adaptive Design, why we’re looking at the ESD Toolkit’s mapping of Services to Interactions to provide a catalogue for content, but basically it’s one council, two sites, one year.

So if you’re looking to redesign your digital services and information, the first question I’d ask is “what is the purpose of the website".
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.