"There will come a time soon when for some councils there won't be a council website any more - the website will be the council" - Tom Steinberg, founder, MySociety
Purposes of the strategy
- To document the roles of the council's website estate and how we might best achieve those purposes
- To agree key stakeholders
- To state ownership and governance of the web estate
- To plant a stake in the ground outlining our aspirations for the future
Purposes of the council website estate
- To deliver channel shift savings by enabling citizens and others to interact with the council digitally instead of by telephone or in person
- To promote the services the council offers (or commissions) to citizens and visitors
- To promote civic engagement shifting people from being passive residents into active citizens, taking an interest in the council, its policies, and its workings to enable them to better inform us in our decision making and be better informed themselves at election time
- To communicate key messages to target audiences
- To promote the city / borough as a location for business and tourism
Stakeholders and audience
The stakeholders of the council web estate are:
- Ordinary citizens of of the area,
- Business operators in the area,
- Potential and current investors in area,
- Potential and current students in the area,
- Potential residents of the area,
- Visitors and potential visitors to the area,
- Service area staff of the council,
- Suppliers to the council,
- The council Digital Services team(s),
- Corporate Communications,
- Council Directors, Assistant Directors, and Heads of Service,
These stakeholders each have a variety of different transactional, informational, and marketing needs from the site, some of which may on the surface appear to conflict or interfere with the needs of other stakeholders; it is the business of the Governance Strategy and Content Strategy to address and minimise these potential conflicts.
Note that although councillors, cabinet members, and other politicians are identified as stakeholders of the web estate, their influence over it is restricted; the purpose of the council web estate is to promote the work and policies of the council as an organisation and to allow citizens to interact with that work and policies. Elected members should not use the main website to promote any political agendas; cabinet members needing to convey information in the capacity of their cabinet portfolios should only use the specific media office web stream to do so, and other politicians should use their own party web channels.
Responsible for digital strategy, web strategy, web governance, web content, information architecture, accessibility, usability, technical developments and innovation, accessibility, usability
Input into look and feel, branding, corporate communication guidelines
Service area staff
Responsible for providing the facts for the Digital Services team to turn into web content
Senior and strategic managers
Responsible for ensuring digital strategy, web strategy, and governance are adhered to
Responsible for supporting the digital and web strategies from a policy perspective
The web did not stop being developed in 1991 with the development of the first web browser, but has been constantly developing, evolving, and innovating. As a council website we should be continually seeking to develop, evolve, and innovate in terms of the breadth and variety of services we can offer online, and the way in which we offer those services.
Content, Services, and Data
We should adopt a generous and open attitude towards providing information to our citizens; as taxpayers they have a right to any information we hold which is not deemed confidential, and therefore, they have a right to access it as easily as possible - on our website. Furthermore if it is easy for citizens to access the information they are looking for on our website, that means they will not need to phone us up, or worse, complain about its absence on social media, to ask for it. We hold many datasets relating to our work, some of which are of interest to the engaged citizen, others may be of use to local technologists and entrepreneurs in developing applications which can help the council as a whole in delivering our corporate objectives. It should be corporate policy that all council datasets which are neither confidential (as defined by the Data Protection Act) nor currently being monetised by the council should be declared as Open Data, and presented to the public in an open format on the web estate.
Whilst working to a policy of being generous with our content provision, we should also be pragmatic about it; the majority of our citizens are not interested in how many tons of grit are spread on how many miles of road during the winter, they are just interested in whether the road they need to travel along is on a gritting route. Some citizens are interested in the fine detail, most citizens are interested in just the bare facts. Content should be provided, organised, and templated according to the Content Strategy as a Content Onion, separating majority interest content from niche interest, where the needs of both citizen groups are served without interfering with one another.
The council should work on an Online First basis - that is to say, all potential interactions with citizens and all information sources should be directed towards being able to be fulfilled online as the citizen's first point of contact with us; leaflet, posters, and other printed material should always refer citizens to a specific, relevant page on the council website in the first instance as any call to action, more prominently and above any phone numbers. Website content should never end by saying 'for more information, contact us' (or similar), rather, summary information should instead link to an additional page containing more detailed information. If citizens are contacting the council by phone or email for further information about our services or any initiatives, the responsible service area needs to consider placing that further information on the website, and be prepared to justify why it might not do so.
Within Online First, all potential interactions with citizens should consider that 50% and increasing accesses to the council website by citizens are using a mobile device, and all content and interactions should be designed accordingly. This does not mean all content must be short, rather that the content should be designed according to a Content Onion - the most important, most relevant key fact from the content should be at the top of the page, progressively revealing more detail of the content as the user scrolls down. We should not assume citizens using mobile devices are in the mobile realm - they are just as likely to be sat at home watching television with their mobile device as they are sitting on the bus or walking through a park. Some users may wish to carry out a task from end to end on their mobile device, whilst other users may find it more sensible to start a task on one device and finish it off on another; where possible, content and transactions should be designed to facilitate this.
We should aspire to have a website which is respected by our peers in the sector, and popular with our users.
In order for this to come about the development and maintenance of it needs to be staffed properly, by skilled professionals with good experience in developing and maintaining websites and communicating effectively in digital media. The bulk of the website needs to be actively developed and maintained by a core team of full time professionals, supported where appropriate by a small community of professional-grade web editors in service areas bringing specialist service knowledge not as a minor adjunct to a substantive job, but as at the very least a substantial portion of a core service job. It should not be relegated to a small add-on to a substantive clerical grade position.
In order to innovate and continually improve the service, we should have a realistic central budget from which to pay for the work to be done, delivering value for money; there is no point in us designing a fantastic improvement to how an online function is delivered, or worse still, identifying a problem citizens have been experiencing and designing a solution to that problem, only to not be able to deliver these improvements because the service area in question refuses to fund them. The web estate is a common resource and channel for the council as a whole, and therefore needs to be funded as a strategically managed corporate service rather than on an-hoc basis from individual service area budgets. Of course, there would still remain the facility for service areas to fund their own improvements from their own budgets if they wanted to, subject to the due governance of Digital Services to ensure strategic alignment and best value for money.
Authority and Governance
We should reduce the number of separate websites, intranets and online systems to as small a number as possible, including as much information and functionality as possible into the one main council website, with full business justification required from any service wishing to separate itself from the main website.
As a common resource for the council as a whole, strategically, the website and wider web estate can only be effectively developed properly with a robust governance process in place which puts Digital Services as the final authority in all matters relating to the web estate. Digital Services should have final authority to ensure improvements happen, and likewise it should have the authority to veto changes which service areas demand if it does not consider those changes to be in the best interests of the council as a whole or if it does not consider those changes represent good value for money. Governance structures, roles and responsibilities need to be maintained, including suitable representation from key stakeholders, as detailed in a Governance Strategy.
Current and future scope and Digital Inclusion
This web strategy has been written with thinking about various organisational programmes to reshape and redesign local government into organisation ready to meet the challenges of the next 20 years. This will only be achievable by considering digital service delivery, currently seen in terms of websites on computers, tablets, and phones, and mobile apps, at the heart of our service designs.
The matter of Digital Inclusion cannot be separated from this. In discussing digital inclusion, we should not be patronising about those currently seen as excluded.
In 20 years time, 'the elderly' will be the cohort of people who went to school during the 1980s - the era of a BBC Micro in every school, and a ZX Spectrum, VIC 20, or Commodore 64 in almost every home; the era of Manic Miner, Chuckie Egg, and Elite in the home, and of VisiFile and VisiCalc in the office. Describing the elderly as a cohort of people who find technology difficult to understand will no longer be an option.
The work to design a digital council for the next 20 years begins with this strategy.