Taking a fresh look at the web…
I remember the days where I was just reading the Better Connected Report for my literature review and not really understanding the impact it has on local council web practitioners. But this year, my eyes were open to see just how important it is to do well and measure a local council websites effectiveness in delivering information and services.
More Reasons to Keep on “Better Connected’s” Good Side…
With budget cuts looming, there is a greater need to be more innovative in delivering public services online and self-services can be used to deliver more for less. So local council websites are looking like a more attractive channel to move away from the costly business of servicing customer enquiries via the phone or face-to-face to self-service through the local council website.
Socitm Insight show that web transactions cost £0.27p each, compared with £3.22 for the phone and £6.56 for face-to face
I guess this is similar to what is happening with supermarkets such as Tesco or Sainsburys offering more self-service checkouts. Recently it was even reported that Tesco has opened the country’s first all self-checkout store.
Tesco Express, located in King’s Langley, Northampton, has five self-checkout terminals and no traditional checkout lanes, the report says, a model Tesco refers to as “assisted self-service.”
So this type of phenomenon is not only effecting local councils, its happening to businesses everywhere and it has become more important to give customers and push them towards using self-services to cut the cost of dealing with customer enquiries in a significant way. But after reviewing many local council websites, I still personally find local council websites are not taking up this opportunity seriously or taking the time to understand the state of web and the way customers are interacting with it now to fully exploit its cost-cutting benefits.
So what is it you might ask is stopping local councils to move forward and really score high in the Better Connected report next year? Well let’s have a look…
- The myth that customers want to ‘speak to a real person’ when dealing with government.
- People are still not finding the information they need when visiting a local council website.
- There needs to be a change in the way local councils think and user testing to ensure the customer’s journey in completing a transaction online can be processed as smoothly as possible, especially in the most common ‘top tasks’ like looking at jobs, finding schools information, paying council tax, viewing planning registers, and paying parking fines. And for this to happen, there needs to be a significant change in the way local councils look at the web and engage with their customers online.
- Quite often I find through my research, the team that actually is responsible of the local council website, be it the IT department, web services or even online communications department, the lack of people within the team itself shows the level of commitment or dedication that is being put towards online services. Therefore management might not be seeing the local council websites as a corporate asset therefore increasing failure rate on online transactions and costing the council more money.
Better Connected’s new ranking system…
As mentioned by Helen in the video, next years Better Connected report will have a new ranking system. Martin Greenwood, Programme Director for Socitm Insight says:
We have signalled very strongly in Better connected 2009 the need for all council websites to raise their game in view of the critical importance now of self-service, and the equally critical importance of getting self-service right first time, every time. It is, therefore, right for us to be more thorough and demanding in the assessment carried out in Better connected.
Modelling the new system on the Better connected 2009 results as far possible, the 2009 results would be (via publictechnology.net) : Nine four star sites (compared with nine excellent sites) 88 three star sites (compared with 160 transactional sites) 223 two star sites (compared with 255 standard sites) 104 one star sites (compared with 225 standard sites) To get more information from Socitm about what to expect from the Better Connected 2010, be sure to check this description taken from the Socitm Insight’s webpage.
Socitm Insight subscribers, council webmasters, web managers, and other interested parties are being invited to comment on the proposals by 25 September 2009. Changes agreed will become effective for the 2010 survey carried out in November and December 2009, results of which will be published, as usual, on 1 March.
IN BC10 Proposed new ranking system contains details of the proposed new ranking system to replace Better connected‘s existing three ranks of ‘excellent’, ‘transactional’ and ‘standard’. In future, it is proposed that there is a four star rating, with four stars equating to the current rank of ‘excellent’ through to one star denoting a ‘poor’ site. The changes are being made because of confusion about the descriptive terms used for the current ranks. In addition, Better connected reviewers have found it increasingly difficult to separate borderline ‘transactional’ sites from the better ‘standard sites’. Also, the range of standard sites has become very wide, including those that are good with some limitations, to those that are, frankly, poor. The additional rank being introduced will separate these sites from each other.
IN BC10 Criteria for Better connected sets out proposals for updating the criteria for ‘useful’ and ‘usable’ websites that are reported on in Better connected and used to assess and rank websites. 16 criteria are used: information; currency; links elsewhere; news value; transactions; e-mail; participation; ease of finding; use of a to z; use of search; use of location; navigation; design of transactions; accessibility; readability; and resilience. Each of these criteria is defined in detail by Socitm Insight, and the document published now, when finalised, will update Version 1 of these criteria, first published in Better connected: aiming high (January 2005). If you would like to discuss the proposals please visit the Socitm Insight Web Improvement and Usage community with the IDeA Communities of Practice platform. If you are not a member already, you will need to register to join the 420-strong community that we established earlier this year. (http://www.communities.idea.gov.uk). If you would like to respond to the proposals please email your response to: Insight@socitm.net
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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.