Good websites could mean better councils

Anyone who uses local authority websites (as I do) knows the visitor experience varies significantly from one area to the next.

The best are made with the user in mind. They’re easy to understand and make contact with a local authority department simple. Others (and there are a few) leave users confused and frustrated and, ultimately, on the phone to the council to complete the transaction they hoped to do quickly online. If this happens, the costs of dealing with such a transaction increase for the council as frustrated users contact call centres or local drop-ins rather than completing the task on the website. If there’s a case for cash-strapped councils not to invest in making their websites better to deal with this shift in the way its customers’ live and work, I’ve yet to hear it.

So it was interesting to read the headline findings from Socitm’s ‘Better Connected’ report into local council websites in England, which found too many of them to be jargon-laden, confusing and written as if intended for people with detailed knowledge of local services. Anyone know what Housing Choice is, or what it means if you’re looking for a home from your local council? Too many don’t bother to explain this. Here’s a couple of comments that highlight the issues researchers encountered when dealing with councils’ housing and planning services online:

“I was shocked by the number of councils that did not have information on how to object to a planning application and grounds you can object on.”

“Often information about eligibility for housing is in some big PDF that you have to download and look through, when basic criteria can be summed up in a few bullets.”

Here are the housing findings (PDF 191KB) and here’s a summary of the research into online planning services (PDF 191KB) and some more about the research itself.

Senior council managers should take note of the report’s findings if they want their websites to support their organisations more effectively.