Some links I’ve spotted recently

I sent out a newsletter today and included these links at the bottom. Popping them here for posterity…

Chatbot research with Neil Lawrence

It was an absolute pleasure to talk with Neil Lawrence from Dorset Council about the research project he led, using Local Digital funding to find out what the user needs are that using a chatbot might meet. You can watch the video on YouTube.

It turns out that if you want to know whether a chatbot is a good idea or not, it’s not as simple as a yes or no. There are a number of factors to bear in mind, such as the complexity of a service, how transactional it is, and what the emotional state of the service user might be.

Add on top of that the fact is that you need to train the chatbots with the good content and provide access to back office data via APIs. Anyone thinking chatbots are a shortcut are very much under the wrong impression!

Check out the project’s website to download the various outputs, so you can benefit from this research too.

Chatbot research with Neil Lawrence

It was an absolute pleasure to talk with Neil Lawrence from Dorset Council about the research project he led, using Local Digital funding to find out what the user needs are that using a chatbot might meet. You can watch the video on YouTube.

It turns out that if you want to know whether a chatbot is a good idea or not, it’s not as simple as a yes or no. There are a number of factors to bear in mind, such as the complexity of a service, how transactional it is, and what the emotional state of the service user might be.

Add on top of that the fact is that you need to train the chatbots with the good content and provide access to back office data via APIs. Anyone thinking chatbots are a shortcut are very much under the wrong impression!

Check out the project’s website to download the various outputs, so you can benefit from this research too.

What content management systems are used in local government?

Just before I went on holiday, I spent a bit of time one evening researching what content management systems (CMSs) are used by local councils in the UK. A CMS is the software that runs a website, just in case you didn’t know.

The results can be found in this Google Spreadsheet, as well as the summary pie chart above. There’s been a lot of discussion about it on Twitter, which you can follow up from the replies to my original tweet.

I need to give a big thanks to everyone who has helped fill in some of the blanks, but a special thank you to Colin Stenning from Bracknell Forest Council, who has combined some previously research he has done, as well as making other updates to clean the whole thing up a lot better.

Findings

  • Jadu is the current market leader, with their own commercial product. 70 councils use it, according to the data at the time of writing
  • Umbraco and Drupal are next, showing a strong use of open source software in the sector. These numbers could potentially increase in the next year, particularly with the LocalGovDrupal project proving very popular. Of course, these open source systems will be supported by a range of different agencies and suppliers. It’s hard to estimate the potential size and variety in this market.
  • GOSS ICM comes next, the fourth most popular in total and the second most popular commercial system
  • Then there’s a bit of a drop, and the Consensis CMS comes next.
  • There are several other open source CMSs in use, including WordPress, Squiz, DNN, Liferay and Joomla
  • There are a couple of councils who appear to be rolling their own CMS rather than using something prebuilt (whether commercial or open source). This strikes me as being rather eccentric, but I’m sure they have their reasons.

The answer for poor council websites?

Finally, and most troubling, on my late night wanderings through the world of local council websites, I came across some that are simply dreadful. There are always reasons for these things, of course, and I wouldn’t want to directly criticise any council or team. Cash strapped local authorities can’t afford the web teams or the technology to do much more.

However, there are solutions out there to help. LocalGovDrupal is shaping up to be the council-website-in-a-box that could solve the problem. Or why not take a leaf out of Tewkesbury’s book, and use the £250 a year SquareSpace service? Yes, opportunities for customisation are limited, but at that price you get something modern, responsive and effective – and zero technical hassle.

The method

I took the URLs for the websites of all councils in the UK from this list on the LGA website. It would appear that it isn’t up to date and misses

Those URLs I chucked into a batch process on whatcms.org (it cost me $10). That detected 257 CMSs. I then started visiting each site that was missing, and checked to see for credits on the site itself or clues in the source code and caught another 50 or so. Since sharing the work on Twitter and other places, some folk have come forward to fill in some other blanks, and thanks to Colin there are almost none left now.

Featured image credit: Sigmund on Unsplash

Launching the DigitalCllr survey

surveyI’ve been doing work with local councillors for some time now – helping them see how they can use the internet to better engage with citizens, and communicate with them too.

This takes the form of running training workshops usually. There’s probably a better way of doing it, but they are probably a bit tricky to procure.

Anyway, I’m interested in finding out where we are up to with digitally savvy elected local representatives, so I have thrown together a quick survey. The main aim to to find out what councillors are doing on the internet, and try and spread the word to their less keen colleagues about how it’s working.

So, if you are a councillor, or you know one, spread the word about the survey. Here’s the link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/digitalcllr – I’ll be blogging about the results, so we can all benefit.

What I’ve been reading

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

‘Official’ local gov blogging

Simon writes a nice post celebrating the existence of the new official BIS blog, and provides a handy list of existing Whitehall “formal, properly-designated corporate ‘blogs'”.

Here they are – I’ve also added UKTI’s blog to the list, which I’m sure Simon will do too on his when he gets a moment:

I’m pleased, because as I have written on many occasions, I think blogging is a fantastic way for organisations to tell their stories, unhindered by having to go through third parties, media organisations and that sort of thing.

As Simon makes clear, these are public, official blogs, corporately branded and not the personal blogs of civil servants or politicians, which is a quite different thing. So what makes a blog an official one like this? I’d say some, not necessarily all, of these are factors:

  • Use of corporate departmental or organisational branding
  • Sitting on the official domain of that organisation
  • Linked to (reasonably) prominently on the standard corporate homepage
  • Written by a group of people rather than an individual (or a collection of individuals’ blogs, like in the FCO case)

There probably are others too – please do suggest them in the comments.

I’d like to start looking at which local councils are blogging officially, like the central government examples above. At the bottom of this post, you should find a form to complete if you have any to submit. If you can’t see it, that might be because you are looking at this in an email or your feed reader. Viewing the original post is your best bet.

[contact-form 2 “blogging survey”]

My next post on this topic will be on how we can get more blogging happening in this way, and perhaps what Kind of Digital can do to help! 😉