I was recently interviewed about hyperlocal websites relationship with Camden Council (in response to this blog post; “Digital Strategy: How Camden will be engaging with the local community through hyperlocal websites“) and an overview about our new website. This article has now been published and featured on E-Gov Bulletin by Dan Jellinek titled ‘Hyperlocal’ Information ‘Invaluable For Local Authorities’. I thought I’d share the answers I gave E-Gov Bulletin with this blog just incase you were interested in a more detailed view of our project and our perspective on the subject of hyperlocal websites role within local authorities.
Broadly, how would you define hyperlocal websites?
If you can imagine holding up a magnifying glass on a map of a town or a place / even using the zoom function on google earth/maps, that is what hyperlocal means. We don’t only see the name of the streets but you also see the post office, schools, high street shops, residential houses and flats and etc. And sometimes you’d also see people painting their picket fences or walking down the streets, including the ‘lollypop’ person waving and guiding children across the streets.
Therefore hyperlocal websites are websites that deliver content or news and information about a particular place or specific area in a town or city. You will also find that ‘hyper’ means ‘more than usual or normal’ so hyperlocal website give deeper information about a ‘local’ area than usual or a ‘more specific view of the issues that concern the ‘local’ area.
How will Camden Council be using hyperlocal websites/info on its new site?
Quote from Alasdair Mangham, Head of Information Systems at LB of Camden.
“We are working with Talk About Local to help us build capacity within our communities that will encourage people to go online. Once communities have got their websites up and running we will give them widgets to put on their websites that can give them direct access to the Council services they want rather than expecting them to come to our website and track down the services that are most relevant to them.'”
What are the benefits for both local authorities and citizens of using/creating hyperlocal sites? In particular, can they help: 1) the engagement process by a council, and 2) service delivery
1) Yes, it will help the engagement process by a council because it will help the council understand the needs and concerns raised by citizens without being authoritative or seen as moderating every single comment. Therefore the conversations can be limitless and more diverse which also allows citizens to share their experience or stories of living in the local area. Engagement can come in many different forms, but it is mainly about when and where it happens. Having direct contact or knowledge about a certain local areas well-being will help the council to act on citizens concerns when and where they might need them.
2) We all know that a council website is not particularly everyone’s first point of reference on a daily basis like say the BBC website. It might not also not even offer RSS feeds that can allow citizens to easily get information pushed to them at their convenience. Therefore by working closely with ‘Talk About Local’ and its hyperlocal websites within Camden, we will be able to target and offer specific information about a service directly to the hyperlocal websites using widgets or even offer a guide or handy tips on how to use our website to access specific type of information. We can also offer guides on how to carry out transactions to encourage its uptake and build citizens confidence in using the web. I think the possibilities of enhancing service delivery via hyperlocal websites are limitless. Its about grabbing the opportunities as they come and doing our best to fulfill them by listening to our Camden residents.
Are more councils beginning to use hyperlocal sites, and will this usage increase in the future?
I do not see councils as ‘using’ hyperlocal sites because they are not there to interfere nor moderate/own the hyperlocal websites. They hyperlocal websites belong to citizens and they are the ‘users’ of hyperlocal websites. Councils are unofficial contributors to useful information that can help citizens within that particular area. So you can view councils as being just another member of that community sitting side-by-side with citizens, reaching out on citizens level without any barriers or judgements. This type of engagement will hopefully break down the barriers or walls that currently exist between councils and citizens and increase citizens trust towards local authorities.
At this moment, there are a few councils beginning to ‘engage’ with hyperlocal sites, but each are using different strategies or methods for those engagements. Its important to mention a very important research currently being carried out my London Council that you can find here http://www.londoncouncils.gov.uk/capitalambition/projects/digitalneighbourhoods.htm
This project is a research study to explore the impacts of citizen-led neighbourhood websites and the implications for local councils. And as we all know, with more case studies available, the likelihood of more councils following best practices are higher. The main thing is local authorities start sharing those methods so others can learn from them, which is why Camden is keen to communicate its findings to the public. In times where huge cost cuts are being made in government, we all need to work together more effectively to ensure ‘free’ valuable knowledge and lessons learnt, such as this does not pass us by.
Can you tell us about any interesting/new features of Camden’s new website?
Camden’s new website will be easier to use and navigate with better accessibility and a more effective and efficient search facility. The new website will improve in 3 stages. 1st will be the look and feel which will be delivered through the design, 2nd stage we will look into revamping the LGCL categories to fit users understanding of services and further user testings on the new website. The 3rd stage will be looking at developing apps and widgets for the website that will encourage further usage on different platforms and devices.
We have done several user testings to ensure the new design satisfies users needs and demands for information. It will also encourage users to carry out transactions online with transaction option at any point where possible. Some of the users comments on the new website during our user testing include “The site is more user friendly, looks much more cleaner, easier to navigate, less cluttered, so much more better than the old website, more interesting content and more visible transaction and search option.”
We will continue to do user testings once the site is launch to ensure we continue to improve it with further user comments and feedback. We will be transparent about the progress we make to allow the public to see the process that we go through to improve the new websites functionality, usability and accessibility. We also hope that we will be able to help other councils to learn from our mistakes and encourage transparency in web services across local authorities.
Hope this was useful!
Liz Azyan is interested in the ways new kinds of social data and technology introduce challenges and opportunities to society. Get involved with Liz’s latest project here.