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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 …

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 …

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 t…

Why I'm Not Making Another Google

Over the past couple weeks I’ve been experimenting, creating search functionality based on local public services. 

So far I’ve used data from Elgin, Environment Agency, the Food Standard Agency, Job Centre Plus, NHS Direct, Ofsted and West Berkshire Council to create alpha.westberks.gov.uk

The idea is not to create another Google, that's a mistake some make when building new search functionality, but bring put together an easy way to access lots of disparate local data and link back to it. It displays text based results and where there’s geo-data against the record, displays it on a map too. 

Try searching for stuff like “doctors in newbury” or “rivers in pangbourne” and you’ll get some results back. Some of the information you get back, particularly things like live flood warning information isn't the sort of stuff you get in a Google search. 

Because I’ve used national data, it will work for anywhere in the country but there’s a long way before it’s anywhere near that stage. I…

Why smartphone apps aren't always the answer

It's happened for years, it happens in the private as well as the public sector and because of the move to deliver services via digital it's happening more and more.

What is it? Organisations purchasing applications and more lately smartphone apps as a quick fix, rather than a joined-up, strategic move for delivering services online.

I'm going to use fault reporting apps as an example. The type of thing you can use to tell councils about potholes, graffiti, and so on. There's a number of these around now all performing much the same task, many being sold in part as becoming really useful to people when more councils purchase them.

Whilst it seems that councils are doing right in offering more services digitally there's two main problems with this approach:


1) If you travel through the areas different councils look after, then you'll need to install apps for each location. 

There's no joined up approach to the way councils procure stuff like this, so for example…

Digital Inclusion: You're Not Alone

Working with digital can sometimes feel like you’re trying to change the world on your own. Add to this the growing pressure some in Local Government say they experience and there’s a chance that if you do both, you might be feeling pretty alone right now.

If you are then this is for you.

I realise what I’m about to propose is hardly groundbreaking stuff, but if it helps a few people in their professional roles, why not point them in the right direction. So here’s what I suggest:

1) Use Twitter Professionally

Twitter. It’s about finding out what people like Wayne Rooney had for tea isn’t it? Well yes, but it can also be an invaluable tool in your working life.

Create yourself a Twitter account for professional use, and start following people in the same field as you. If social media is blocked at work, use it for a few minutes every day home. If you’re worried about what work might think of you using it, use a pseudonym.

Start following people like you. Start asking them que…

Torch Tweets - Community Content

On the 11th July we're trying something a bit different. Residents, people from local businesses and organisations standing in the streets of West Berkshire will be publishing content live on our website.
In the past I've described how Twitter is basically a content management tool used by 140 million users worldwide. When the Olympic Torch Relay comes through West Berkshire this theory will be put to the test.
The contributors or Torch Tweeters as we're calling them will be describing the Relay in their own words and will hopefully convey the experience of viewing a once in a lifetime event to those who can't be there.  It's similar to what Citizen Relay did in Scotland, but live and in real time on a website.
Why do I think this a good thing? Well firstly those like me who work in Comms and extol the virtues of social media occasionally need to remind themselves that not everyone gets it. Sure you could obtain the same information from Twitter but publishing it …

Torch Tweets - Hashtags

For the past week I've been following the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay around the country through the text, pictures and video posted on Twitter by local authorities, the Police and other agencies. This page displays a timeline of live content and you can use it to follow the Relay as it progresses.

Initially I did this to prepare for when the Relay reaches Berkshire, as then the live page will display content from local organisations and residents, or Torch Tweeters as we're calling them; you can read more about this here. It has however given me an invaluable insight into how social media is being used to cover this event.

Over the next few weeks I'll post my observations and my first is on hashtags.

Despite being a national event (international if you include Dublin) I couldn't find any attempt to join everything up on Twitter. Some counties have sensibly used a common hashtag, #GlosTorchRelay for instance was used to tie together all the tweets from the Police,…

What Is Twitter?

Twitter. It’s for keeping in touch with friends, say some, it’s for sharing ideas say others, it’s for promoting your organisation and getting your message out to the world, say more.

This is not what Twitter is; this is what you can do with Twitter.

Twitter at a basic level is an online database of information that can be read and written to by much of the world’s population who own a computer or other device capable of connecting to the Internet.

It’s not until you look at it like this that you can realise its full potential. What’s more the nice people at Twitter provide an API to make it easy to query and extract the data. You can select tweets by user, list, hashtag, phrases or words in the tweet and more.

If this all sounds a bit nerdy that’s because it is, so here’s a practical example of what can be achieved. This page here displays Tweets from everyone who’s in this list and have used the hashtag #geotagtest. It displays the four most recent images attached toTweets that fit this…

Should Every Page On Your Website Have A Facebook Page?

If like me you're a fan of Dan Slee's blog you've no doubt read his excellent article on creating lots of little Facebook pages. As usual he's spot on, and in this piece I'll look at going one further and putting every page of interest on your website, on Facebook.
By adding Open Graph tags (code containing meta-data about the page) in the Head each of your pages you can tell Facebook (and other sites that can read Open Graph tags) a lot more about what each page is. I blogged about defining your website pages a objects so I won't bore you again with this. Add a Like button to every page too, and when a user clicks on it, they create a new page in Facebook. I realise this is a bit techy but if your site uses a content management system, this is easy for a web designer or developer to do.
Doesn't this create a huge overhead in having to administer potentially thousands of Facebook pages? The simple answer is no. A page is only created when someone clicks Like …

Community cohesion through social content?

Last year we launched a pilot page for local news. As well as showing the news we publish it takes content from Twitter and display the latest tweet from a selection of over 25 organisations local to West Berkshire. We chose our initial group based on local, primarily not-for-profit organisations that tweet and you can see the full criteria here.

The pilot was to test whether the page worked technically, whether it updated all the time, every time and whether what it displayed looked as it should. The page passed these tests with flying colours  but it also produced some unexpected but positive results. 

For example towards the end of the week the page often becomes a what's on at local art venues and Saturday afternoons the page often displays live local football and rugby scores and if there's a fixture, racing results. These are both things we didn’t expect to happen but are a great ways to promote local cultural and sporting activities.

So where do we go from here? A p…