Sharing and flexibility

Nice post from BIS’ Neil Williams on deciding up on a commenting system for the department’s website.

Go read the whole thing, but he summarises:

So what have we learned?

  • People blogging about what they are up to is dead handy. Stephen and Jimmy writing their posts, me reading them, has saved you thousands of pounds. Direct cause and effect.
  • Having the flexibility to embed stuff is awesome. Insist on it next time you buy a CMS. Hats off to the guys at Eduserv for really coming through for us on this one. We couldn’t put pages together like this and this and this without it.
  • The growing availability of embeddable stuff is way cool. I’m excited about what else we might be able to achieve without dev work – like page ratings using Bazaarvoice and forums using Talki.
  • We all need to think differently now. Few things we might want our website to do are going to be unique to us. Gov webbies, and suppliers of government web services, need to adapt and thoroughly check out 3rd party plugins before embarking on any kind of jiggery-bespokery. Why pay for our own learning curve when others have already been through it?

My take (which pretty much repeats what Neil has said:

  1. People sharing stuff via blogs is good and has measurable impact.
  2. In whatever you do, being flexible and open means you can make the most of developments in technology, or whatever.

Works starts on skills framework for web professionals

Vicky, from Boilerhouse and Socitm, pops by to tell us about the latest developments with the public sector web professionals network.

On 27 November, Socitm will be holding a workshop as the first stage in a project to define a professional skills framework for people who work on public sector websites.

This is part of it wider initiative to set up a web professionals group for this large and diverse group that includes:

  • programmers and coders
  • web developers (with technical skills)
  • web designers
  • content managers/editors
  • social networking experts
  • measurement/monitoring specialists
  • web marketers
  • web managers
  • customer service or IT heads with web responsibilities
  • e-communications professionals

The initiative kicked off earlier this year with a meeting called by Socitm and involving web managers and practitioners from local government across the UK, central government departments, the government supersites, and the third sector. Also present were representatives form some existing and past groups formed by webbies, including the Public Sector Web Professionals Group, SPIN and the Scottish Web Forum.

There was general agreement among those present that meeting web practitioners’ professional development needs would in future need more than informal groups, voluntary effort and free networking tools. It was also recognised that defining a skills framework for web practitioners and organising training, development and possibly accreditation around this framework would be a core activity for any professional group formed.

Following this meeting Socitm commissioned research to identify whether any other professional association or skills organisation was already doing or planning to do something similar. Discussions were held with a range of professional and skills organisations in ICT, interactive media, marketing, communications and publishing. We also talked with the CoI and the Government Communications Network about their plans in this area, and made useful contact with the Federal Web Managers Council in the USA. Contact was made with some web networks in the NHS to share and discuss idea, leading to some positive feedback about the potential for webbies in the health sector to join our activity.

At this point, the Socitm agreed in principle to set up a web professionals’ interest group for people involved in any aspect of web management and development. Individuals at any level of seniority or career stage, employed or freelancing in the public or third sectors, or in any organisation working with them would be open to join. The group would then run under the Socitm constitution, with the group electing a chair and officer and developing a programme of activity supported by Socitm’s paid staff. Members would be eligible for the normal benefits of Socitm membership as well as additional benefits exclusive to ‘web members’.

As well as agreeing to set up a group or community for web professionals, Socitm agreed to fund initial development on a skills framework. This is seen a central to the development of a sustainable future programme of activity that will attract web professionals to join and support the group. The workshop on 27 November marks the start of this activity

We are looking for people with experience of managing web teams in the public sector to get involved in this activity. There are a limited number of places available at the workshop, and a wider opportunity to participate in evaluating and offering feedback on the initial framework developed at the workshop.

If you would like to get involved, please complete the form to tell us a little more about your relevant skills and experience, and whether you are willing and able to attend the workshop on 27 November, which will run in London from 1000 – 1600. If by any chance you are unable to access this, email me at

We will be publishing the register of those interested in the community library.

Many thanks are due to Paul Canning for his work in getting this activity going, some of you will have been following his blogs on this topic in the CoP and elsewhere.

The decent council website – top 5 so far

There has been a great response to the What makes for a decent council website? experiment.

Here’s the top 5 at the end of the first day:

  1. Plain english – Jargon and acronyms should be kept to the absolute minimum, or if they must exist, they should be metatagged with common english counterparts eg. Penalty Charge Notice should be crossindexed with parking fine and parking ticket.
  2. Services not portals – Services that poke you when something of interest happens and help you sort something out when you are annoyed. Council websites should not be destinations/portals.
  3. A home page that gets you to where you want to go quickly – The home page should have a list of links that cover the main user tasks, as well as allowing the user to search by keyword, subject area, and offer predictive results as they type.
  4. Test the site before launch – This should be a no-brainer, but sadly it appears not to be. Yes there will always be problems no matter how much testing is done, but NEVER launch a site without ensuring that the majority of links work and that most of the pages contain content.
  5. Have people that respond to users’ suggestions – Use to collect problems and suggestions in one place. Then have people employed to answer them, and engage in a conversation about the most interesting ones.

So, some good stuff, and there are even more ideas on the site. Keep them coming!

I’ll keep the site open til the 20th September, after which I will cobble all the thoughts together, along with comments and votes into a document everyone can share.

What makes for a decent Council website?

After the kerfuffle over the Birmingham City Council website, as expertly documented by Paul Canning, there has been a considerable amount of discussion about what a Council website should look like, and what it should actually do.

This isn’t just an academic debate, as some local authorities have been making some really innovative steps in redesigning their sites, such as the search dominated Westminster and Lancashire sites – which I quite like; and the personalised Redbridge and Nottingham sites – which I am less keen on.

There are, it seems to me, three main groups which have a view on council websites, in particular order: citizens in the area who use the site, internal staff, and the wider world of interested folk (I hesitate to say ‘experts’).

So I wondered how the third group might go about putting a wishlist together of features that a Council website really ought to have, and perhaps of deciding which are the most important. These could then be documented somewhere so that Councils have a free point of reference of some good quality advice on where they should go with their website.

So I have set up a page on IdeaScale, which is a bit like UserVoice only it has a few more collaborative features. You can find it at:

It is straightforward enough to submit an idea and then vote on it and others, you can comment on ideas and even edit them collaboratively, using wiki like features.

So do come and join in, leave your ideas and let people know what you make of theirs, and let’s build a really useful wishlist for what makes for a decent Council website.

How to make websites work

From Google’s LocalGov event today, Alex Nurenberg talked us through the steps you can take to make sure your website works – in other words that visitors find what they want quickly, especially when they come in via a search engine or advert.

  1. Bring me to the right page
  2. Make your homepage useful
  3. Help me navigate
  4. Give me the right results when I search
  5. Display services clearly
  6. Give me the detail I need
  7. Make registration optional
  8. Make it easy to enquire
  9. Reassure me
  10. Let your users design your website (it’s all about testing)


  • Use Adwords to drive the right traffic
  • Use Analytics to monitor performance
  • Use Website Optimiser to optimise content

Cheltenham go for search

I wrote a little while ago about how council’s websites might look, and ventured the idea that perhaps all that is needed is a big search box.

Look what Cheltenham Borough Council have got now!

OK, so it isn’t the home page, but it has extra use as it searches other local sites too.

Great work. If anyone knows the folk behind this stuff, can you make sure they come along to LocalGovCamp? 😉

Remind us of your views, again?

I wrote a little while back about a fairly terrible website being used by Cambridgeshire’s Transport Commission to consult people on their views.

Cambridge News now reports:

A PROBE into Cambridgeshire’s transport crisis – including the idea of a congestion charge for Cambridge – has been hit by a technical blunder.

The chairman of the Cambridgeshire Transport Commission, Sir Brian Briscoe, has revealed the commission’s website has been affected by “initial teething problems”.

The result is that some of the responses to the commission’s request for people’s views on how to tackle the traffic issue have been lost.

People are now being contacted to resubmit their views. Let’s hope they can be bothered.

Oh dear oh dear. I found out that this website cost the sum of £2,990 to produce. Now, that might not sound like a huge amount, but for a microsite like this it’s a sizable budget. What the Transport Commission got for their money was – frankly – piss poor, and it now turns out that it doesn’t even work properly.

Simon Berry’s ColaLife campaign is a truly wonderful thing, a real example of using the groundswell to develop an idea into a campaign and then, hopefully, into action.

I was always at a bit of a loss, wanting to help out more than just joining the Facebook group, but not knowing really what I could do. Other than build websites, of course…

So that’s what I did. ColaLife now has an external web presence, so people can find out about it without being a Facebooker. I made the site deliberately simple to navigate, hiding the blog bit away and relying on images to help get the message across. Another great example of WordPress as CMS…

We’ve imported all the posts from Simon’s personal blog onto the site, so it can become the central repository for all things ColaLife. In the meantime, do register your support by joining the FB group and the Google email group.

Should web and ICT be the same?

Really interesting post from Paul Canning, discussing the recent assertion by Richard Steele, SOCITM‘s President, that web should be just another part of IT within organisations.

Paul says:

Web skills are very specific, you need to be across a lot of terrain. You need to understand SEO, usability, web content, have good people skills, be across various and ever changing IT, visual design, accessibility, marketing, PR … Even the very best IT managers don’t have this skill range so they can’t make informed decisions or informed choices across the range of issues which constitute good and most importantly successful web.

Good stuff from Paul, and of course I agree with him, being a web and definitely not an IT person. Indeed, I would a couple of bits to Paul’s list about webbies needing to be excellent communicators, and maybe a real interest in policy is important too.

Google Maps API

Google Maps

I have had a really great idea for a little site that I think will be of use to quite a few people in the UK. Trouble is, it relies on using the Google Maps API, and I haven’t a clue how that works, despite my recent best efforts trawling through the documentation.

The basic idea is pretty simple: a homepage with a zoomable map of the UK on it , with markers on the map which when clicked display information about that location. I’d like eventually to be able to show people directions from their address to one or more of the markers too, but that can come later.

I’m guessing that, given there is plenty of information to be handled, a MySQL/PHP/Google Maps integration job might be on the cards. Again, beyond me at the moment, but I just need someone to point me in the right direction.

Can anyone help?