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So you want to build a new council website, but why? What's wrong with your current one?

simon gray 2023-09-28, 18:25:55
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The public sector digital legend that is Dave Briggs has recently started a collaborative project, the New Council Website Playboard - a shared generic high level plan for councils to use as a starting point for their own website redevelopment projects.

One of the cards I've added to it is 'Carry out an Irritations Audit'.

What does this mean? Well, pour yourself a drink and get a biscuit and I'll tell you.

If you're wanting to rebuild, redesign, re-whatever your council website, then there's obviously something wrong with the existing one. In my experience, what people feel is wrong with it boils down to one of two things (or sometimes both) - either the technology that makes the website happen, the web Content Management System, or the content itself. This analysis of what might be called the Problem Statement often ends there - 'our CMS is old now' or 'our site is too hard to navigate'. Teams might dig a little deeper and do something of a content audit to decide what pages are no longer relevant (or outdated, or trivial...), or they might have concluded there's no way the existing CMS can be adapted to deliver pages meeting modern accessibility requirements, but often the statement (which may be explicitly written or it may simply be a shared understanding) doesn't go into any further detail.

Given the number of council websites which in some shape or form have been redesigned in the last five years, you'ld think by now there would be a critical mass of best in class council websites which are delivering services so good the citizens prefer to use them. Since it was roughly five years ago that the phrase 'fix the plumbing' became in vogue, you'ld think by now fatbergs would be a distant memory in the world of public sector digital services. I'm not going to say there aren't some pretty decent council websites out there, but those pretty decent council websites I think are the exception rather than the norm.

Is it possible in our sector we haven't paid enough attention to what's actually wrong with the sites we want to replace? Indeed, is it possible there are other factors which might have been the cause of your problematic website other than just the content and the CMS, which by not addressing them from the outset means your new site is, shall we say, a disappointment when it goes live?

Whence my suggestion to at the early stages of the process of commissioning a new website to perform a full, and frank, and detailed irritations audit.

What irritates you about your current

  • information architecture
  • content itself
  • user journeys beyond the information architecture
  • governance policies
  • process of commissioning, creating, and updating content
  • team and management (people and product) structure
  • relationships with service areas providing you with facts to turn into content
  • relationships with the (rest of the) IT function in your organisation
  • attitudes of senior and corporate leaders and managers to the digital service
  • other departmental policies which don't dictate how you work, but interact and interfere with how you work
  • technolog[y|ies] - the CMS, the forms engine, the CRM system, any other systems those technologies integrate with
  • suppliers


Be systematic about documenting all of this, and don't consider any irritation which anybody on your project team (which of course will be wider than just the core digital team itself, won't it?) to be too small or insignificant to document. Maybe even document everything in an Excel document!

Inevitably you'll end up wanting to group similar things into themes. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, and when it come to creating an action plan to resolve them it may be the only way you can do it, but resist the temptation, or rather the pressure, to lose the detail when you create those themes - too often I've been in workshops where what's happened is one important piece of insight has been combined into another important piece of insight, and the actual insight from both has been lost in a title that by the time everybody comes to look at the work again, nobody can remember what the thing being documented actually was!

So indeed, once you've created your initial Irritations Audit, build the action plan for resolving those irritations into your overall project plan for the new site. Track progress as part of the overall plan, ensure nothing important gets brushed aside as being too difficult to solve, and carry the process of keeping on top of those irritations through into your new site once it's live.

And with a bit of luck, if you go live with a new site that you've solve all the problems of the previous one, rather than just the obvious ones, you might end up with a best in class website which has not only fixed the plumbing, is also delivering online services so good people prefer to use them, and indeed makes my friend who went 'wow' at a certain council website which she didn't realise wan't actually the council website which started me off on this whole Manifesto project, go 'wow'.

#LocalGovDigital #LocalGov #Manifesto

In group Public / Third Sector Digital

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