What should a council’s website look like?

Simon Wakeman presents a nice roundup of some of the new websites being launched, comparing Barnet and Cheltenham‘s latest efforts with the current poster-child, Redbridge.

Generating an environment for residents to interact online with their councils will generate more engagement with the democratic process and council work in general – but it needs truly interactive platforms, a supportive culture within the council and a drive from officers and members to create genuinely two-way conversations.

Simon is right to call out Redbridge for the lack of interactivity in his post. Some basics have been missed: no RSS, no home page box for me to enter my email address to get news updates straight to me.

I think Redbridge and other sites like this are missing what the web is really about these days.

What local authorities (and government generally) need to understand is that they need to stop thinking about their websites as a destination. They should provide people with the information they want, where they want and in the format they want – not force them to spend hours personalising a site in which they have very little interest other than finding out when their bins get collected.

In fact, here’s a (only slightly stupid) vision for council websites. Make them look like Google. Not iGoogle, but the actual Google homepage, with just a search box on it. Make sure the search works, so people can actually find what they want, and then add an option to receive an email when that content changes.