Thursday, 12 December 2013

The internet of broken things

When most people refer to something as Web 3.0 I usually call shenanigans. When Sir Tim Berners-Lee calls something "a component of Web 3.0" I take notice. This is what he said of the Semantic Web.

The Semantic Web is the "internet of things", compared to Web 1.0 and 2.0 which perhaps could respectively be described as the "internet of information" and the "internet of services". Back in 2011 I was already boring people about "being objective", but a conversation with the award winning Carl Haggerty this week reminded me of this again.

So what's it got to do with local governments?

Councils look after a huge number of physical assets. My area has 10,000+ streetlights for example, and at some point they'll all exist as an entity on the internet. Actually, they kind of do already.

Here's a link to report a problem with the streetlight nearest to where I work for example. In fact you could do the same with any of the 10,000+ streetlights I previously mentioned and other councils are adopting this approach too.

What this means is that you can start to fundamentally change the way people interact with their council.

Rather than raising a new case for every broken thing, it means that people could subscribe to information about specific assets. Rather than 100 reports about the same thing, councils would store 1 report and details of 100 people who have subscribed to receive updates about it.

In fact it doesn't have to be an asset. Potholes or flooding could become a "thing" on the internet as easily as a streetlamp and people could subscribe to updates.

There are obvious efficiency savings with this approach. Council officers would have 100 times less admin work dealing with my example above, with just one record to update.

More than that, it's opening up data and allowing people up to keep up to date with problems with their area should they wish to know about them. It also casts a light into the back offices of councils, showing people that streetlights don't magically get fixed by the sodium-vapor fairy whilst they're at work.

I'm sure Sir Tim didn't have it in mind when he spoke about the Semantic Web, but the internet of broken things could revolutionise the way people interact with their council.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Social media and the internal digital divide

There's an elephant in the room of channel shift. In fact it's knocked through to social media's gaff and is currently residing in the whole ground floor of the digital comms building. I'd been meaning to write about this for a while and Helen Reynolds post asking "Isn’t it time ALL employees were encouraged to use social media" promoted me into doing so.

Channel shift encourages not only customers to use digital, but also those providing the service to communicate with service users using digital too. That might be using social media, a Customer Relationship Management system or some other electronic means.

In my LocalGov Digital role I talk to lots of people, in lots of organisations, in lots of sectors and one thing is apparent; the standard of literacy of some delivering services is perceived as not good enough to communicate effectively using digital.

This is not in any way a judgement on their professional capability. I myself once worked with a computer programmer who was dyslexic. He was brilliant in his role and produced some amazing stuff, he just had some trouble reading and writing English.

A shift to all employees being encouraged to use digital comms scares some, it really does. It scares them because they think whilst professionally they're fine when it comes to communication, translating this into written language the public will understand might show up their perceived inadequacies, making them and the organisation they work for look unprofessional.

So what's the solution. Perhaps build digital comms into the job descriptions for new employees, and yes this might work for some roles, but would you really not employ a brilliant builder because they couldn't blog, or a consummate care worker who couldn't compose tweet?

Perhaps the solution is not to encourage all employees to use digital comms but only those who want to?

There are two problems I can see with this. Firstly you're creating a digital divide internally between those who tweet and those that don't. Secondly, customers will receive a different quality of communication depending on who is assigned to the task.

I don't know how to resolve this, I'm just starting a debate, and clearly as channel shift pushes digital comms to the fore, it'll become more and more of an issue.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

How to reduce visits to your website

Ten years ago, a general view of local governments' websites was bigger is better. "We've only got 2,000 pages on our site; you've got 5,000? Brilliant!", I remember conversations at conferences going.

Today however it's widely accepted that some local government's websites are almost impenetrable fortresses of content, not just through incomprehensible language but because of the sheer number of pages one has to sift through to find pertinent information.

The LocalGov Digital Content Standards seek to help put this right, and these days participants in unconference conversations are more likely to take the view that it's better to have the minimum number of pages needed to do the task of delivering information and services.

So what's this change in best practice for local governments' websites got to do with the number of visits?

Most local governments now have some sort of Channel Shift programme in place, which seeks to direct as many users as possible often to "the council website". Back in 2011 I wrote about how councils having one website to do everything was an outdated concept, but this isn't what this piece is about.

Channel Shift is a good thing, but in ten years time I predict that, just like the change in thinking about content, we'll be praising those who have lowered visitor numbers to their website. Sounds pretty bonkers, right?

Most forward thinking digital services or web teams are also looking at user journeys through their sites, and as well as reducing the number of pages, they're making it easier to navigate around to find relevant information. It's well known that people will most likely start their journey by using a search engine or someone else's site so shouldn't the improvement of a user journey include this too and not just through Search Engine Optimisation of one's content?

I'll show you what I mean. Let's say someone wants to find out when the council offices in Newbury are open, so as most would, they go to Google and search. If you do this. you should be able to see that on the right hand side, all the basic information about this council building is shown.

By putting microdata in website pages you're telling search engines (and other sites that can read it) what's on the page. What this means is, it's saved the person having to visit this council's website find what they're looking for. Their user journey has been reduced, and as a result they're likely to be happier.

So this is great for basic stuff, but won't the user still have to visit the council's sites for other things? Of course, but there's a wide range of hierarchies for content so you can extend this to information about pretty much any person, location, physical service or object.

By getting cleverer with your content and doing the hard work to make it simple you'll reduce the number of clicks it takes to find your information and in some cases people won't even have to touch your site, to see your content.

So there it is, reduce visits to your website by making your content more intelligent, which will please more people. Channel Shift is a good thing, but of those people have shifted to the internet, don't assume they should always shift to your website. Not so bonkers after all, perhaps, you can be the judge of that. What do you think?


Sunday, 17 November 2013

An emergency tweetcast network

This week we had an incident on one of the trunk roads in our area. Fortunately there were no fatalities, but the road was closed in both directions for a few hours.

The incident happened around 6.45am and TVP Roads Policing tweeted about it. Ideally partner organisations would have someone monitoring Twitter and have re-tweeted it, but often it simply isn't possible to have dedicated members of staff to do this, around the clock.

So this got me thinking, could I build something to the task?

I was reminded of films, where in a civil emergency, radio and television becomes one broadcast network. Could something be done along similar lines with Twitter? I started to build a proof of concept and surprisingly, in a short space of time it was finished. So how does it work?

Firstly, (this is the technical mumbo-jumbo) set the code up with your OAuth application authentication and then get it to run at scheduled times, ideally every couple of minutes. Even running the code this frequently, you shouldn't hit the Rate Limit in Twitter.

Secondly, create a new list in Twitter, ideally with the account that will do the re-tweeting, then populate the list with accounts from partner organisations you want to re-tweet, so you'll end up with something like this.

Thirdly, you'll need to agree hashtags across your network, so you might choose #wmrti for road traffic incidents across the West Midlands, #brkflood for flooding in Berkshire and so on.

When the code runs, it looks through the tweets of the accounts in your list and if it finds one using a hashtag it knows about it'll re-tweet it, getting vital information out to more people, quicker.

If you'd like me to set up a proof of concept for you I'll be happy to do so, just let me know. I think it has huge potential and perhaps could even lead to a nationwide network for emergency alerts.






Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Centring on savings sells digital short

You might have seen a paper published last week by UKAuthority reporting that 40% of councils say they're not making savings by using digital.

Whilst I agree with much of the sentiment of the paper I noticed that Steve Halliday, President of SocITM commented on Twitter that perhaps it was "council accountants fail(ing) to count savings achieved through digital" and I can see his point.

I very much doubt that there's a single council that isn't making some sort of saving through digital, it's just that this information hasn't been collated or reported. After all, every council has a website, so this must be be providing some saving, in that it's preventing a level of what used to be referred to as "avoidable contact", so why wasn't this reported?

I'm not advocating the introduction of performance indicators that tie council staff up in red tape rather then delivering services. I'm just saying that when a council says it's making zero savings from using digital, perhaps it needs to look at the way it's assessed this.

This article isn't about savings though, it's about the wider benefits of channel shift, four of which I've highlighted briefly below:

  1. Increased Capacity

    A larger percentage of end-to-end digital transactions and a better quality of online information (something the publication of the LocalGov Digital Content Standards should help improve) mean that frontline staff providing the initial contact can spend more time dealing with residents who still want to use traditional channels.

    It also means that back-office staff can allocate more time to getting the job done and (if using a decent Customer relationship management (CRM) system) reporting what they did back to the resident quickly and easily.

    Perhaps you're thinking you can't have increased savings and increased capacity, but as with almost everything a council provides or commissions, there's a balance between saving the resident money and making things better for them which applies here too.

    The increased capacity that digital can provide across all channels gives an opportunity for:

  2. Better Quality of Service

    Digital provides access to information and services when people want to use them. Whether it's reporting a broken streetlight at midnight or looking up library opening times on a Sunday afternoon it's there when people want to use it.

    What can be overlooked is that the increased capacity digital provides can create a better quality of service for those residents who don't want to, or are unable to use digital services.

    So digital can actually enable a better quality of service across all channels, which leads to:

  3. Greater Satisfaction

    It's natural that better informed residents, able to use services or find information when they want will be happier. So obviously, better digital services make people who like using digital happier.

    If staff are able to devote more time to traditional channels then it's more likely that those who still want to phone, email or face-to-face will also receive a better service making them happier too.

  4. Greater Transparency

    Whether it's publishing detailed accounts or showing residents when, where and how things get fixed, digital provides operational information in a form much more easily accessible to residents than previously available.

The need to find savings is a driver for an improved level of digital services in Local Government of course, but measuring just one benefit is a mistake.

Making a change in any organisation isn't just about technology, it's cultural too and in my view, centring purely on savings sells digital short.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Being Really Useful

Last Tuesday I took part in a Really Useful Day in Newbury. The event was the biggest Really Useful Day so far, and saw over 50 people from more than 25 councils attend.

The days are organised by Local DirectGov, a service run by Department for Communities and Local Government. This was the second LocalGov Digital / Local DirectGov collaboration, the first being part of Create/Innovate in Devon, though in truth all the credit goes to Louise and Abby from Local DirectGov for organising the day.

We heard how Adur and Worthing Councils and Brighton and Hove Council created new websites and from myself on "Connecting Councils", how council officers can collaborate and share using digital media.

I know I promote a digital agenda, but there's sometimes no substitute for face-to-face collaboration and what marks a Really Useful Day apart from many events is the level of practical participation. People are encouraged to think and solve problems together, rather than just being talked at.

Next year we'll be running four more collaborations at venues around the country to help digital practitioners in Local Government. Until then take a look at the Local DirectGov calendar to see if there's anything really useful happening near you.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Four bits of advice for new LocalGov websites.

 John Fox recently posted designs for the new Sheffield City Council website on Google+. I applaud anyone who does this and opens their designs up to critique and criticism; it can only produce a better result for the end user. A discussion followed which prompted me to come up with the following four bits of advice if you're creating a new Local Government website:

  1. Treat Google as your home page. Prioritise the SEO work above things like including top tasks on your home page. At least twice as many people will come from Google than visit your home page.


  2. Treat every page as landing page. Assess the tasks one might need associated with this particular service, wherever they might be on the site and whoever might provide them, and link to them.

    For example, if you want to build an extension on your house you'll need to know about Planning Applications and you'll probably need to know about Building Control which are generally in the same areas of a council website.

    Less likely to be in the same category is information about a skip licence. You might need to know about noise pollution or air pollution. You might need to know when the local tip is open and whether you can take certain materials there.

    Treating every page as a landing page will give you an overview of the services and information the viewer might need from the whole of your organisation.


  3. Offer themed pages that live outside the general structure of your content but bring together pages. Be clever and don't group things simply because they happen to start with the same letter, in an A- Z.

    Group things because they have common elements, may be used by similar demographics or are part of a similar user journey. Someone searching for "disability" might be looking for information from Social Care, but equally they might want help with finding employment, a blue badge, help with waste collection or something else.

    Make all this information accessible from one page.


     
  4. Treat your site as collection of re-usable objects, not a bunch of web pages.

    Ensuring you use RDF or similar metadata where applicable will mean that people don't have to visit your site to find out what they need in some cases.

    Visitor numbers alone are not indicative of a good service and this will actually reduce avoidable contact to your website by making your content even easier to find and re-publish in other digital media.

It's not until you start to consider a true polyhierarchical structure, coupled with the ability to syndicate your content you'll start to move your website from rigid set of pages to a fluid set of objects relating to services and information your organisation provides.

We'll be using these principles in our Alpha (alpha.westberks.gov.uk) and I'd welcome any feedback on this work in progress.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

The End Of The Beginning

Last Friday I attended a meeting of the LocalGov Digital Steering Group. The group of local government digital practitioners of which I'm currently Vice Chair along with Carl Whistlecraft.

Comms Lead Sarah Lay has already written a great blog piece about it, so in the LocalGov Digital spirit of sharing and collaboration, rather then repeat what she's written read about what happened here and then come back to get my take on it, please.

For me, the meeting felt like the end of the beginning; the completion of the discovery phase and a move into outputting tangible products to assist everyone in local government who deliver services and information digitally.

Up until now, I know that some have seen LocalGov Digital purely as a think tank, but the Steering Group and wider network are digital doers and in the near future you'll start to see things like the Content Guidelines published.

The Guidelines collate and add to best practice from around the world to help councils improve the content on their websites. I'm all for criticism where standards the public expect aren't met, but if you're not going to offer practical help to make things better then perhaps doing so isn't as constructive as it could be.

This is just one tiny piece in the jigsaw of the Digital Framework for Local Public Services and expect much more as the initial work streams start to produce outputs, providing resources for digital practitioners in local government.

Please do join the network, either on the Knowledge Hub, Google+ or both. Sharing your experience and ideas will help the whole of local government and the people it serves.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Choose Digital: Alpha

Today the sites we're producing as part of our Choose Digital Project moved into their Alpha phase. You can read about why we're creating two new sites, on the Choose Digital Blog.

We're inviting comment from local residents and businesses, peers in other local authorities and our own councillors and staff; in fact anyone who wants to. We've released templates for home pages, landing pages, services and information pages.

One of the first things you'll probably notice is a warning on every page. This is because the sites are far from finished, in fact they're barely started in terms of design, development and content. So why release a site to the public so early in the process?

I wrote in the past about the Government Service Design Manual and how some of it could be adapted for local governments. The basic framework for creating a digital service is something that certainly can be applied to every design and development process for a public facing service and where possible we've tried to stick to it.

Of course the Discovery> Alpha> Beta> Release timeline isn't new, but doing it so publicly is quite rare, as far as I've seen, for governments.

So please be as brutal as like with your observations, as long as you're constructive. If you don't like something, if you don't like anything, please tell me why and perhaps how you'd do it better. We're supporting screens down to 320px wide, negating the need to create expensive apps, so please do test the sites on smartphones and tablets.

Through this process we hope that we can make online services so good people want to use them, something I said back in June 2012 and which is at the heart of our Choose Digital Project.

We'll be releasing updates based on feedback and the Project Plan roughly every two weeks, for the next eight weeks and at the end we'll have enough to start creating a Beta.

You can see our new sites at alpha.westberks.gov.uk and alphainfo.westberks.gov.uk. You can feedback or start a discussion by emailing digital@westberks.gov.uk or on FacebookTwitter and Google+

Thanks in advance for any feedback you'd like to give.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

LocalGov Digital Hangout: September 2013 - Preview

In recent experience I think it's true to say there's growing interest in sharing and collaboration between local governments.

Whilst this may take shape through formal shared services or jobs there's also an undercurrent of dialog which is creating informal coalitions of knowledge and ideas, both online and in person, between hundreds of local government members and officers.

That's the good news.

From events I've attended this year there seem many more interested in joining in, but unsure as to how beyond traditional conferences. I recently wrote about why I'm running another LocalGov Digital Hangout and as even unconferences need some sort of structure I though this could be the topic of September's.

To this end, I thought the hangout might focus on these four questions:


Which tools can local governments use to share ideas and collaborate more effectively?

Are there any good examples of sharing and collaboration between local governments?

How can collaboration be promoted to those with an interest in sharing?

How can collaboration be promoted to members and senior management?


We won't discover all the answers in an hour, but perhaps the discussion will be useful to add to the wider debate. The hangout is at 2pm on the 19th September and I hope you'll be able to pop in to give your views.

Friday, 16 August 2013

LocalGov Digital Hangouts

A hangout is a video chat room, integrated into Google+. Isn't that a dead platform you might ask? I used to think that too, but I wrote about why I changed my mind, here.

Back in February 2013 I ran the first LocalGov Digital hangout, an evening event for those with an interest in local government and digital; Kate Sahota ran the next one in March. Since then I've taken part in a few of Shane Dillion's excellent hangouts, Jerome's Turners Out Of Hours Hyperlocal and set up what we hope to be regular hangout for local government officers in Berkshire.

Now seems like a good time to make LocalGov Digital hangouts a regular event and to start with I'll be running them from 2pm to 3pm on the third Thursday of every month. Whilst the hangouts will focus on a topic, the overall aim will be to share ideas, promote collaboration and highlight local government best practice in delivering services and information digitally.

Like unconferences and camps, hangouts for the public sector tend to be held in the evening or at weekends. Sharing to improve the service one provides shouldn't be an add on to one's role, it should be part of it, so I've taken the decision to run the hangouts during the day.

I understand that some may have trouble accessing social media from their workplace, but Google+ runs from a smartphone and tablet too, so those wanting to take part could use their own device. If you're building a case to allow professional networking using social media at your organisation it'll be another reason to add to the list.

I anticipate a slow start. More than ever there seems to be a desire to share and collaborate in the public sector but many are still unsure as to how. Add to this that some still are unaware of Google+.

I'll review the progress of the LocalGov Digital hangouts in six months, or sooner in the unlikely event they become a runaway success, running them more often if this is the case.

If you have an interest in improving digital in local government I hope you can find time to join in. Not only will you be making what you do better, you'll be helping to improve what local governments across the country do.

You can sign up to the first hangout here.


Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Kick starting collaboration in Local Government

A while ago, at a LocalGov Digital Steering Group I suggested the idea of a "dating site" or Kickstarter for Local Government. This week I was discussing Nesta's new Creative Commons Europe site with Carl Haggerty and Paul Mackay; it seemed like a good idea to re-visit the subject.

When it comes to digital services, councils often tend to buy off-the-shelf solutions with a customised look and feel. This means that essentially, some suppliers are selling the same thing over and over again with a different paint job. It's production line development and sales in digital services, or IT systems as they're often seen as, which are treated as a purchased product with a limited shelf-life. When the shelf-life expires the procurement process starts again.

Producing digital services should be an iterative process, as documented in the Government Service Design Manual. People's expectations of digital services are constantly evolving and Local Government is not immune to this. Ongoing change in what Local Government does also affects what needs to be offered online.

Factors like newer and different types of device, improved connection speed and improved availability of connection are altering what people expect they can do digitally and where they can do it. The flip-side to this change is what can be done online is always expanding and many councils have a channel shift programme to exploit the potential savings of using digital services to a greater extent.

If you're not developing and continuing to improve a digital service with the customer in mind you're probably not meeting their expectation fully nor are you getting the full benefit of channel shift. This is where something like a council "Appstarter" could come in.

So let's say I'm looking to create new digital service and I have a limited development resource with which to create it. I'd go to Appstarter, write a brief description of what I wanted and break the work down into chunks. The author could specify which resources they had and what they needed. A extremely basic version of this could look like:

Digital service for residents to report missed bin collections.

Have: C# development.
Need: Database development, Graphic design, Web design , UX design.

Those interested in collaborating to produce something could then pledge their skills and time to fulfil one of the roles in creating and continuing to improve the service. Yes, this would make the project more complex than buying something off-the-shelf, but it wouldn't need project managers for each participating authority, as each council buying and implementing (or developing) their own system most likely would.

There are more possibilities if the proposed solution has a budget. Appstarter could be open to SMEs who don't have all the skills but could work on some aspects of the creation and iterative improvement. It could be that the entire solution is supplied by SMEs, facilitated through Appstarter.

Obviously there would need to be some sort of qualification criteria for SMEs, but this would be a one off task and sharing out work amongst a number of different smaller suppliers eliminates the risk of having a single point of failure.

There will be situations when this approach might not be appropriate, Problems to resolve with it will be identified, but Appstarter might save money on procurement, enable collaboration and save work, provide a better service to customers which in turn could save money through more channel shift.


Sunday, 4 August 2013

Trolls, vigilantes and vigilante trolls.

There's been a lot of talk recently about the creation of a "Report Abuse" button on Twitter. There's already a procedure to report abuse and you're able to block users from tweeting @ you, but this would make it easier to do so. When launched, in my opinion the Report Abuse button will help create two new groups on Twitter.

Vigilantes


It's always been possible to seek out and join in the conversation of others on Twitter, it's one of the great things about the medium. The Report Abuse button will make it much easier for people to try to stop conversations happening.

It goes without saying that everyone has different views and that expends to what constitutes abuse too. Journalist Caitlin Moran seems to dislike misogynistic language but has usesd phrases like "bum boy", "tranny", "mong" and "spaz" which others might find offensive, for example.

One person's humour is another's abusive language and being able to find and then report what one might deem as offensive a lot easier will lead to vigilantes, looking for things they dislike and reporting them.

Imagine an army of cyber Mary Whitehouses trawling Twitter, seeking out content to be offended by and you'll not be too far off what might happen.


 Vigilantes Trolls
 
Though designed to combat trolling, the Report Abuse button will become another weapon in the armoury of the troll. Trolling is seen as something new but it's not, flaming, bashing and trolling have been around for as long as one has been able to talk converse with someone else on the internet.

The recent spate of disgusting tweets directed at a number of media celebrities has come from not one or two sources but tens, perhaps even hundreds. Given the nature of the perception of abuse it would be quite easy to invent a spurious reason for offence and for hundreds of people to then report this "abuse" silencing the very people calling for the trolls to be removed from Twitter.


If a hundred people phoned me up and used threatening language, I wouldn't be expected to report every call to the phone company. There's only way to stop real abuse on Twitter, don't shoot the messenger and demand Twitter fix the problem, report it to the Police.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

What's on the cards - Part one

This week we reached a milestone in our Choose Digital Project. For the past month or so we've taken the Local Government Services List and used it to catalogue our services.

Almost every piece of content on our new sites should relate to a service we provide or commission, but there wasn't a definitive list of what we do as an organisation. Now there is, and we also know whether each service is potentially something we could offer digitally too.

So we printed out each cards for each service or bit of information and they looked like this..


..the yellow cards were the Service Site (211 of them) and the Blue (544) were the Information site. The Project Team then spent an afternoon sorting them into different categories for both our new Service and Information sites..


..and now we've got the structure of both sites. 

So that's the background, in the next two parts I'll describe why the website structure is becoming less important and in the third what other insights a card sorting day can provide.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

What's To Become Of UK Gov Camp?

A couple of months ago I wrote a job description for a new post. Included in it was a line about attending camps and unconferences to share ideas and learn from best practice as part of the role.

To be clear, when I wrote the spec I wasn’t expecting this person to be spending many days a month, swanning round the country attending everything they could. Clearly there’s a balance between talking about stuff and putting it into practice.

Equally, as someone who preaches “Digital by Choice” if there are ways to contribute online, then these should also be considered. There’s usually no better medium than face-to-face, however (I’m sure you already know) digital can often be cheaper and more convenient.

It’s with this in mind I read that James Cattell was organising UK Gov Camp 2014 (UKGC) and he was investigating expanding or evolving it, something that I agree needs to happen given the interest in the 2013 event.

Now here’s the thing, that links back to the job description I wrote. Until camps and unconferences are seen as something that one does as part of their role we’re never going to be able to fulfil the potential of collaboration and share as much as we could.

So my two suggestions are this; firstly run UKGC over two days, a Friday and a Saturday. Things aren't going to change overnight but running it on a Friday says it’s a professional event, not just something local gov nerds (like me) do in their spare time and those who can’t come along in work time can still attend on the Saturday.

Secondly, have a greater emphasis on digital so that the conversation can extend out of the room. I tweeted, not entirely seriously, about hooking someone up with a Peep Show style headcam and Mark Braggins commented that actually Google Glass could do this which is a great idea. It also means that simultaneous events could be run across the country at the same time as well as people joining in wherever they are in the world.

That’s my take on UKGC14. Bigger, more professional and doing more with digital, without losing the things that make it unique.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Reject Responsive Design and mess with RESS

It's been a while since I wrote a really nerdy post, in fact I'm doing a talk on Engagement at a SocITM event next week so it's about time I got back to my locked-in-a-cupboard, haven't-seen-daylight-for-days, coding roots. Some of the SocITM event is around based around mobile strategy so this seems a good topic to choose.

You've probably heard everyone talking about how mobile devices are going to take over the world and traditional "static" websites will be obsolete by next week. Of course I'm exaggerating but it's true to say that some time in the next year or so, mobile and tablet use will overtake desktop and laptop use for viewing websites.

You need to optimise your site for these devices, and there are two routes you can take.

Create lots of versions of your site using Adaptive Design (AWD)

So you create a two different versions of your site, one for laptops and fixed machines, the other for smartphones. There's two advantages to this approach, you can cut a lot of the code and images out to make it load a lot quicker and you can tailor the content for mobile devices.

Job done, right?

Well no, the drawback to this is, what do you show tablet users, the mobile or the main site? Sure you can offer them a link to the other site, but they're either getting too much or too little content and functionality for their device. So you need to create another version of your site for tablets, but tablets vary in size so you might need to create another two versions for big and small tablets. Then there's internet TVs too, the list goes on.

With device types are set to diversify over the next few years it can only become a bigger problem, so if you really want to annoy your designers and coders choose this approach.

Create one site using Responsive Design (RWD)

Responsive Design works out what size your screen is and displays the content and design to suit your device. You'll probably see something different on a small or large smartphone, small or large tablet, laptop, internet TV and so on.

So great, let's all use Responsive Design, right?

This is actually the approach many are taking now but the problem with Responsive Design is that whilst the content looks a lot better on your device, you're still loading pretty much all the content needed for the largest device. All Responsive Design does, generally, is hide the stuff you don't need and make what's left look good, so you could end up loading huge pages of stuff you don't need on a small device, which isn't good.

One Responsive Design site will keep your designers and coders happy, but if it's taking tens of seconds to view a few lines of text because you're forcing them to download a load of unnecessary content, your users won't be happy, and these are the people that really matter.

There's a third way

Yes, I know I said there were two routes, but every good story needs a twist and so do bad blog posts like this. RESS or Responsive and Server Side takes the best from AWD and RWD and combines the two.

RESS works out which content needs to be displayed for the particular device "server side" (i.e. before it's sent) like AWD and creates a page to roughly suit the device. What's downloaded to the device then uses RWD to make it look nice and keep the same look and feel across all devices.

There's not much else to say apart from if done correctly, it's the best of both worlds and should keep everyone happy.

This is the approach we're using for our new websites and next time you're planning a new site ask your designers and coders to use RESS. They'll look at you strangely to start with but thank you in the long run, and so will your users.

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".

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Ding dong and the digital divide

A couple of week ago I wrote "if you aren't digitally literate it'll soon become very hard to obtain music that isn't mainstream". Since then the purchasing of one particular song has caused a huge amount of controversy both with politicians and in the media.

I'm not going to go into the reasons why people might be buying the song Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead, in this piece that's of no interest to me, I'm exploring the methods they're choosing to do so and how this might give us an insight into other services.

It's also worth noting that according to the Local Government Chronicle, this week plans to launch Universal Credit as "digital by default" have been amended to "digital as appropriate".

So, back to the song in question, let's say I wanted to legally own a copy of this recording today, there are basically two methods I can use to obtain it:

Digitally
From places like iTunes to more specialist sites like Beatport there are many online outlets to purchase and legally download music these days. I could buy the track in question for around 80 pence and it should take seconds to download on most broadband connections.

Purchases from sites like iTunes are now included in the official UK Top 40 Singles Chart so my purchase would contribute to the weekly Top 40 ranking.

Conventionally
If I wanted to buy this recording conventionally my task would be somewhat more difficult and costly. To start with (as far as I know) it's never been released as a single, which means to obtain the track I'd need to pay around 5 pounds for the whole soundtrack from the film the Wizard of Oz.

Secondly I'd need to find a shop selling it. Whilst it's not exactly obscure, I'm not sure if the supermarkets where I live would stock it (though perhaps they're more inclined to now) and since HMV closed down they and garage forecourts are only places to purchase music locally. If they didn't stock it I'd need to start ringing round record shops in neighbouring towns and drive to one that had it, adding to the cost.

There's one other aspect about buying the track conventionally that's different to digital. Because I've bought an album, not a single, my purchase counts towards the UK Top 40 Album Chart. If I was buying the recording to try to boost its ranking in the Singles Chart, as far as I'm aware, there's no way to do this conventionally and it's digital or nothing.

So there we have it, the Digital Divide demonstrated by a 70 year old song. Next time you're designing a service for the public I hope you remember this example and "Ding Dong" sets alarm bells around inclusivity ringing.

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

Friday, 22 March 2013

What I've learnt about Assisted Digital so far

On Wednesday night I took part in a LocalGov Digital G+ Hangout run by Kate Sahota, another member of the LocalGov Digital Steering Group. The session focused on Assisted Digital, and as well those working in Local Government it included Ben Carpenter, currently seconded to Age UK and John Popham, who's work promotes digital inclusion.

As more government services go, or are created purely as digital, providing help and training for those who are unable to use them will become much more important. Central Government has created an Approach to Assisted Digital, but this is fairly high level stuff and though some individual departments are supposed to be providing Digital Champions for services such as Universal Credit, in reality I'm not sure if this is happening everywhere.

There's an even bigger issue around the digitisation of society and how this is changing the lives of everyone. For example if you aren't digitally literate it'll soon become very hard to obtain music that isn't mainstream and supplied by one of the big supermarkets. Let's not get into this one right now though.

As some people find it increasingly difficult to access government services as they go digital, it's likely they'll turn to the most accessible means of engagement with government in their area, often Local Government. This means that in reality the Digital by Default agenda by Central Government is increasing demand on Local Government services. Perhaps this isn't happening everywhere, but I'm aware that it is in some.

Because of this I've been looking at Assisted Digital in the organisation I work for and found that actually, it's already occurring in all but name in our Libraries, in Children's Centres through Adult Community Learning and through more services we provide to the public. What's more, speaking to Ben and John in the Hangout last night, it seems that in some areas there's already provision for Assisted Digital not only by Central Government, by from the Third Sector too. The thing is, it's patchy in terms of coverage and from my point of view there's no joined up strategy around deployment, but perhaps I just haven't seen it.

So what's next for me? Well the easy part is to help join up what we do where I work and publicise it. When I say easy it's all relative, but getting five or six council Service Units coordinated should be a lot easier than trying to asses what's happening locally, regionally and nationally and then try to help bring this together for my area.

What I think LocalGov Digital can do is start to build a picture of what's available in terms of Assisted Digital across the country, and where there are gaps highlight them. A fuller picture will not only help those who need assistance get it, but show where those who might need to add resource may need to do so.

Assisted Digital is just one of the elements in a framework for digital services and communities and if you'd like to discuss this then you can find me at https://twitter.com/PhilRumens

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Making digital services for dummies

Have you seen the new Government Service Design Manual? It's basically a Making Digital Services for Dummies. I don't mean this in a derogatory sense, in fact quite the opposite. The "For Dummies" books sell millions and it's actually often "dummies", or people that don't have a working knowledge of how digital services are developed that have the final say on how and if they're created.

The thing is, it won't work for some local governments.

Because it's a textbook of how things should be done, the real world sometimes doesn't work like it does on paper. Some local governments don't employ development resource, others are tied into long contracts which means they have to pay through the nose for development and have little control over the process used to create it.

So what's the solution? Adapt the Manual for local governments? Nope. The Manual is by and large how digital development should be done in government, and whilst it's a bit idealistic shouldn't we strive to achieve high ideals? Don't the people we're supplying services to deserve this?

Even formal project management methodologies like PRINCE2 say to use them where appropriate, and not when not, so perhaps local governments should try to use the Manual where they think applicable.

Those who rely on external resource could alert whoever develops their digital services to the Manual and say "we want it done like this" and if this becomes a problem then start to think about whether they've chosen the right people to do this for them.

Longer term local governments who already don't, should probably start to think about employing or sharing some development resource. It's very difficult to go through an iterative process of improvement based on customer feedback otherwise and as any good developer knows, actual use and user feedback is the best way to improve a service.

So there we go. The Government Service Design Manual, perhaps a blueprint not just for Central Government, but local governments to help citizens choose digital.

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

Friday, 1 March 2013

Is the council website dead and G+ hangouts.

Last night I ran the first LocalGov Digital Google+ Hangout, inspired by the excellent Out Of Hours Hyperlocal.

The purpose was twofold, firstly to discuss a topic, is there a place for role or task based sites and is the concept of “the council website” dead?

Councils like Devon and Surrey already have separate news sites, Warwickshire has customer and corporate sites and where I work we’re just starting to develop separate digital service delivery and information sites.

I wanted to explore the benefits and drawbacks of such an approach.

What transpired is that the concept of just two or three sites is a luxury to some because as more physical services are contracted out it’s becoming increasingly difficult to offer a unified digital platform.

Whilst it doesn’t matter to many residents which organisation is filling in potholes or fixing their streetlights, reporting them online might become a lot harder if they have to find a separate website to do this on. Multiply this by the number of contracted out services and you can start to see the problem.

Of course with a content strategy that everyone sticks to this shouldn’t really be an issue, but in reality not every organisation in a partnership has the same priorities so it might not be so easy.

This could turn out to be a real issue for many in the future as pressure to create digital services increases, whilst some councils move to become commissioners of services, rather than providers.

The second task was to see if a Google+ Hangout would work for LocalGov Digital and general reaction was that it did. Probably the biggest piece advice I’d give is, if you’ve never taken part in one test your hardware before hand as a few had teething troubles, but once you’ve taken part in one you should know roughly what to expect.

I’ll be passing organising duties to another LocalGov Digital colleague for the next one in a couple of weeks, so check out the Google Community for more details

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

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Don't focus on Facebook, deliver via digital

Local Governments have come a long way in the past couple of years in terms of communicating and listening to people via social media. The recent snow that affected much of the country showed that many councils now understand the power of delivering and distributing information this way.

This is great but I suggest it's time to move the focus on to the more difficult task of delivering services via digital. We've had the debate about social media, it's a good thing, lets start working on delivering the services that people want.

I know there are already councils that are doing some of this very well (and if you are, please get in touch, I'd like to promote it as good practice through LocalGov Digital) , but they're few and far between. There are also some that think they are, but aren't.

Let's take a hot topic at the moment for all councils that look after the roads, potholes, and put a checklist together:

  • Is there a page on your website to report potholes? I mean a page where users can add details of the pothole, not just an email address or worse still, a phone number. 
  • Is there a map and an address search on the page so the customer can easily pinpont the location?
  • What happens when the customer hits send? Is the page linked into your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, so the record gets saved in it and an officer doesn't have to type and cut/paste in the details? 
  • Did the customer get an email receipt of the case if they requested it?
  • Is the case automatically assigned to the correct back office team?
  • Can the back office email the customer using the CRM with updates on their case?
  • Does the customer get a summary of what the council did in an email, or can they check on screen what actions the council carried out to resolve the problem?
If you've answered yes to the above you're probably delivering a digital service to the same standard of someone like DHL or eBay. Now apply this to all your top tasks and you'll be starting to do what customers want and already expect of the private sector.

If you've just got a website form that sends an email to Customer Services, you're not really delivering a digital service.

Obviously there's a cut off point. I'm not suggesting at this stage, unless you can do it easily, councils should be developing the above for some of the more obscure tasks that only get a handful of uses each year. Perhaps one day, but I'm realistic about the resources councils have.

I'm also not advocating giving up on social media, far from it, but I think it's time to start focusing on doing what really boosts the reputation of councils; keeping people informed when they request a service or report a problem, and of course increasing capacity in traditional channels by doing stuff digitally.

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


Friday, 25 January 2013

Hyperlocal and the 3 Councils

I recently joined and took part in a Google+ hangout on hyperlocals. When I say took part, I typed some text in the chat window and listened to everyone else speak. They knew far more than me, given they ran hyperlocal sites themselves and sometimes it's best just to shut up and listen.

I did it as a fact finding exercise to see how councils can help and support hyperlocals and hope to join in again. Some the conversation was actually about councils' attitudes towards hyperlocal.

What this and all my other research has taught me so far is that there seem to be three approaches to hyperlocals from councils. So here's the tale of "Hyperlocal and the 3 Councils". Of course the councils in the story are a work of fiction and in no way represent one single local authority.


The "we don't do it like that"s:
This type of council won't and don't engage with hyperlocals. Social media might be banned in their public meetings and they don't see hyperlocals as a legitimate news source, more a site or page set up by some crackpot to waste their time.

They might have had a bad experience in the past with a site that promoted just the negative aspects of the organisation. Whilst doing this is a perfectly legitimate way of scrutinising a council (provided it stays factual) it doesn't make for good relationship or overall view of hyperlocals. Of course one shouldn't judge everyone on the experience of one relationship, but sometimes people do.

Another more common reason might be simply lack of understanding. Why would someone devote their free time to running a local news site, there must be an ulterior motive. Very often there isn't.


The toe in the waters:
This type of council might be a bit wary of hyperlocals, but they don't see them as something negative.

They understand in part where things are going, but still struggle a bit to get their head round social media and view hyperlocals a personal sites, not a community resource.

Newspapers, radio and (possibly) their own website are seen as the only channels to get news and information out to people. They might however post the odd thing on a hyperlocals or a community Facebook page.

It might take a big event, like a riot or severe flooding before they realise they can work with hyperlocals, or it might just be a gradual process of change.


The forward thinkers:
This council understand the way the media landscape is changing. They realise that many people get their news from social media and hyperlocals rather, or as well as traditional media.

They see hyperlocals as a way to get information out to communities, and just as important to listen to what communities are saying.They realise that hyperlocals might say things they don't agree with, but then so does the traditional media and all are entitled to do so anyway.

They realise that if someone asking to come in and live stream or record their public meetings is actually a good thing, because not only does it allow more people to see democracy in action, it doesn't cost anything.


Of course I'm generalising hugely above, and many councils are a bit of all three, but let's hope in the future we see more forward thinkers and less "we don't do it like that"s.

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

Monday, 21 January 2013

Could standard hashtags work?

Back in May 2012 I wrote about public sector organisations using common hashtags on Twitter for the London 2012 Torch Relay. Since then I've been talking with a few people about how Local Government could use common hashtags to represent its most used services.

I'm thinking for example, #bin to represent anything to do with Waste Services, #road for anything to do with Highways and so on. Tweets might look like

@AnyCouncil my #bin hasn't been collected

@AnyCouncil when do the roadworks on Station Road finish? #road

Before I go any further I should say I'm not proposing that these tags should be mandatory before customers get a reply. We're trying to make things easier for them, not add red tape.

So what could be achieved if customers used tags like this in their tweets? One application is an auto-response which also forwarded the enquiry to the people who are most likely to have the answer.

When I tweeted about this Marc Schmid quite rightly pointed out that "Personal response makes a big difference" and he's quite right. I'm not talking about replacing a human reply, I'm talking about complimenting it.

To see how this might work tweet anything with #bin at this test account. You'll get a response with a link to more information. What happens in the background is that the tweet has been forwarded to Waste Services for a response, or would have been if it wasn't a test. You can also try this using #road.

This means that the customer gets a rely quicker, because it's removed the need for Comms, Cutomer Services or whoever manages the account to do this.

At present the back office need to send the reply to those who manage the Twitter account, but it would be quite easy to build the functionality for the back office to reply to the tweet. This opens up the potential for hundreds of people to be able to reply to tweets on one account without an expensive social media command centre or management software.

Of course this wouldn't stop Services having their own accounts too, but just as the majority of people phone the main Customer Services number, a majority of users follow and tweet at a main council account.

There are many other things you could achieve with standard hashtags and if you'd like to discuss this then you can find me at https://twitter.com/PhilRumens

Friday, 11 January 2013

Should everyone use Open311?

Last week I posted about how at the moment digital is the preferred channel for reporting broken streetlights, flooding, potholes, fly tipping and so on to us, referred to as Fault Reporting.

Then I read what Tom Steinberg wrote explaining what Open311 is better than I ever could, which got me thinking.

In 2011 I created an Open311 service which is plugged into our Fault Reporting functionality and therefore our Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. I then did some work with the very knowledgeable people at Fix My Street (FMS) so that their site used the service. This means, that like our own Fault Reporting, stuff submitted via FMS gets automatically logged and assigned to the correct team.

You might ask why don't we just use FMS, but that's a debate for another day.

What got me thinking about Tom's post is that third party sites that don't use Open311 generally send requests for service through as an email which is far less efficient than creating the case and customer records automatically.

There are various studies on channel cost however in 2012 SocITM estimated a phone call cost £2.83 and a website visit 15p, so an email must be around the same cost as the former, given the customer services representative still has to create the record, type the information and so on into the CRM.

So whilst sites that spring up offering online reporting might seem more efficient, they're no better than sending an email and far less than using our own Fault Reporting or an Open311 enabled site.

Is a natural progression of this, not to accept email responses from digital 3rd party websites, just via Open311, given that the former costs councils and therefore the taxpayer a lot more than the latter?

This is just an idea for discussion. As far as I'm aware no one is seriously considering it and I should add that I'm in no way questioning a resident's right to email, phone or send a letter to report something. For lots of reasons, not least the digital divide these channels need to be maintained.

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

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Why was December the month of "Digital by Choice"?

In December 2012 more people chose digital to report problems to us about broken streetlights, flooding, potholes, fly tipping, litter, trees and shrubs and so on, than any other medium. The figures were:
  • Web 44%
  • Phone 40%
  • Email 15%
  • Other 1%
I feel proud for everyone who's worked on what we refer to as Fault Reporting, as looking at feedback, customers have chosen to use the service because they prefer it to any other medium we offer. It's a real example of "Digital by Choice", rather than "Digital by Default"; building a service so good that people want to use it, not forcing them to use it by closing or running down others.

It's not something that's happened overnight; we've been improving what we offer online for years based on customer, member and officer feedback. So, you might be asking, what are the main things you can do to improve take-up of your own digital Fault Reporting?


Make it more convenient

This one's easy. Our phone lines are open during office hours which were of course were reduced by two days in December. Very often it's more convenient for customers to do stuff online, because they can do it at a time that suits them and we even received reports on Christmas Day.

Just by making sure your website is up, running and reliable 100% of the time you're providing a more convenient channel for many.

Email is also available all the time too, so why didn't more people use it? Perhaps the answer is below.


Make it easier to explain where the problem is

We show a lot of stuff we look after on GIS mapping, for example streetlights, salt bins, areas of grass that we cut and a lot more. If you want a quick map to show roughly where the location of something is then Google Maps is your friend. If you're after pinpoint accuracy and reliable locations (Google Maps used to show one of our libraries in the middle of a canal) then you probably need to use something else.

This makes it a lot easier than trying to describe the exact location of the problem, than either verbally on the phone or textually in an email and it's not only better for the customer, it's better for the people trying to fix the problem as it gives them an accurate location as possible.

Even when there isn't a layer on the map, you stand a much better chance of locating where a pothole is on a two mile stretch of country lane if you can put an X on a map instead of trying to explain where it is, on the phone or by typing it out.


Make it easier to describe the problem

We used to get descriptions that were thousands of character long. Now we prompt the customer for the things we really need, based on the type of problem. For example for a streetlight we ask "if the light has stopped working, if it is flickering or is on during the day". For a pothole we ask for "size, depth and where it is on the surface".

Of course the customer can submit whatever information they like, but we're found people are more likely to submit succinct, more accurate information if we tell them what we'd like from them. Of course, this also helps in getting the problem solved too


Keep people better updated

We built the ability for officers to be able to make updates to case notes public, into our Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.

This means that should they choose it, customers can receive updates of how the problem is being resolved by email and see a summary on screen if they log-in. In fact they can see all the problems reported about this sort of thing, on one screen.

You probably wouldn't expect a phone call from the council, telling you they'd ordered a new bulb for the broken streetlight you reported and councils simply don't have the resources to do this anyway. A quick email, generated by the CRM, containing the information that was being added to the case keeps the customer up to date and it's no more work for the officers involved.

It's assuring to the customer that their report is being acted on, whilst opening up what actually happens to resolve their problem, highlighting the work the back offices do.


So what's next? Keep improving based on feedback of course, but providing a better offering for mobile customers given the rise in mobile use is a priority for 2013.

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.