Councils should fly the flag on website governance to help deliver services online
02 Aug 2012
The web now plays a key role in local government, with interactive council websites serving a huge variety of audiences, and they can help the authorities who run them to keep a vital finger on the pulse of the local communities they serve.
The recent Socitm publication ‘Planting the Flag: pocket guide 2 – governance’ gives useful guidance to councils on how to manage IT governance, but local authorities also need to be aware how important online governance is becoming for their external websites.
Good website governance can help ensure that services are properly managed and delivered ; poor websites with errors, on the other hand, can lead to customer frustration and problems in getting council services. particularly for the most disadvantaged in the community.
Councils usually spend a great deal of money on website relaunches but if web governance is not part of the equation for the replacement, the end result all too often is a poorly-performing, inaccessible site.
Sitemorse surveys websites in the public sector four times a year so has an objective view of how effective the web presences of the UK’s local authorities really are, from the point of view of site users.
With so many failing basic accessibility tests – a criteria that is now backed by law – we wonder how they will measure up in the new climate of more external regulation, especially from the EU. We accept local authority budgets may be especially tight at the moment, but compared to any council’s spend , the cost of a decently-managed website would be tiny.
In fact, Web projects in local government would seem to us to be in need of significant funding increases to take into account the essential nature of their operation and key role in the way councils are transforming delivery of their services via online routes.
In our estimation, compared to the private sector business spend, councils may be underfunding their online operations ten-fold.
We’re not advocating bringing in expensive web consultants, more about looking at what the web is capable of, looking at 'off the shelf technology' perhaps removing some internal conflicts and barriers and embracing technology shift. We’re not criticising the dedicated individuals who manage council websites, but as they grow in complexity the sheer time taken in managing them has risen, so much so that new priorities can overtake site maintenance for small, hard-pressed teams.
Automated systems utilising new web technology can assist such teams in the day to day operations of their sites by assigning priorities and monitoring they are being delivered correctly around the clock, allowing the website managers to be confident that what is most important to them is working properly and accessible to all, on a 24/7 basis.
Some council websites still need to be dragged ‘kicking and screaming’ into the modern age, from where we stand, but it’s not a necessarily a big-cost item to improve website functionality, and once basic functional problems are addressed it is surprising how many websites have risen well up our league tables, as we have reported in our regular surveys of websites in other sectors as well as local government.
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