Posted: Monday 17th September 2012
It’s been a very busy few months for us as a company and we’ve been heavily engaged once more with our Local Government customers.
I had the pleasure of attending the Building Perfect Council Websites 2012 event, and found that many conversations rotated around governance, compliance and general rebellion at the idea of setting a defined web strategy. It was great to be able to talk with so many webmasters who live and breathe the development of their council’s web presence.
I took the opportunity to gather as much detail as possible to feed back into our latest offering to the council arena - a vanilla council website which can be used out-of-the-box or as a foundation to kick-start the process of building a new site from scratch.
To pick up on one of the points that came out of BPCW regarding strategy, the general feeling was that the web moves so quickly that any planning is redundant within hours of writing it down. While this may be true in some areas, there’s always room for setting broad goals for a website and to set out in detail the principles on which the site will operate. The key benefit from any type of planning (including strategy development) is in the planning itself - it forces you to think through the details and edge cases. I would still encourage councils to have a web strategy even if it changes on a weekly basis!
An enjoyable theme of the day came from Tom Steinburg (mySociety); “Web Managers should be Senior Managers”. He argues that too many decisions are made on IT procurement or developments which overlook the user’s experience when using a council’s website. Having a truly web-savvy senior manager would safeguard websites from ill-considered initiatives which break the user journey and cause a headache for web owners. Needless to say I wholeheartedly agree with Tom’s sentiment and his comments fell on willing ears at BPCW.
We’ve teamed up with Hertsmere Borough Council to work on a contemporary theme for the new out-of-the-box council website and they kindly let us work with their staff to get insights into what would make their lives easier too.
For some reason one of the first workshops was held in the council chambers and I have a great memory of standing surrounded by raised benches fielding questions from staff. In particular one person relayed to us the hassle of picking up the phone 12 times a week to members of the public to answer the same question; “When is the cemetery open”? We discovered that the cemetery opening times are listed under the section “Community and Living” - the irony wasn’t lost on us and we can see why people were calling in rather than trawling through the website.
Hertsmere’s website will be the first site to use the solution we’re working on and we expect that new customers will use this more than existing ones. We’ve found new clients use the purchase of a new CMS as an opportunity to redesign their website and this will allow them to hit the ground running. Any council adopting the platform will get a suite of templates (mobile & desktop), modules and controls all tailored to the council audience and a navigation which acts as an excellent basis for a site structure.
We’ll be running a series of tests with the public in Hertsmere to ensure that they do get the value we expect from the solution, it’s always great to see something like this in action.
While I’ve been involved with so many projects this summer I never fail to be impressed with the enthusiasm and drive that our Local Government clients bring to their sites. Whether they’re leading the way with a progressive and dynamic intranet (Torfaen Council) or cracking on with mobile, they’re all doing it with very tight budgets and often relatively small teams - I take my hat off to these guys.