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Increasing transparency through local government web development blogs

This is a cross-posting from Camden Council’s website redesign project blog – which I also write for.

Ever since we launched our web development blog, there has been an increased interest in local government web development blogs.  Looking at some of the response below (tweets about Camden’s web development blog and some of our blog posts) that we’ve had over the past few weeks, I believe the number of local government web development blogs will increase and more lessons can be learnt within our growing community.


Popular blog post

Our recent blog post about the citizens ‘wish list’ got syndicated onto the Governing People (a popular community for advocates of smarter government that is read and subscribed by many government staff and interested parties from around the world) and was retweeted 30 times and read 1821 times, making it the most read and most commented blog post of the month on Governing People.

See other comments or retweets.

I also cross posted this blog post on my website at LGEOResearch.com and also found a high number of retweets and views. This proved that there is still little knowledge of what citizens really want from local government websites and how its largely fascinating for most of us to find out what citizens really think of government websites.

There was even an invite to post the blog post as a featured article on GovLoop‘s website (a government  community of 30,000 government innovators across the world).

Background of Camden’s Website Redesign Project

For those who are new to this blog/website, we are the webteam at Camden Council (UK) and this website is about our website redesign project. To find out the background of this project, I’ve interviewed the Head of Information Systems here at London Borough of Camden to give you an overview of the project and where we are at the moment in terms of the local government website evolution.

Background to Camden’s Website Redesign Project from Liz Azyan on Vimeo.

What does this mean for local government website innovators?

In line with what Alasdair mentioned in the video above, the need for web development blogs are part of the way people are using and consuming the web. I predict that we will see an increase in web development blogs as we saw the growth of local government using other social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook and etc last year.  I remember displaying my research data on local councils using social media last year which spurred on more useful and timely lists such as this one by Brent Council. Having started the list on a whim for my PhD research, it created a buzz in the government twitter and blogosphere, which later on brings us here.

From little steps in social media (using Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube), we are moving forward and becoming more serious in taking positive steps towards better service delivery and engagement with citizens online. By blogging about Camden’s website redesign project, we will hopefully increase transparency and be able to share the lessons we learnt and engage with other government counterparts as well as citizens.

List of other web development blogs from local governments in the UK

Here are some web development blog of local governments in the UK that was kindly pointed out to me by@pluto9 from Brent Council, who runs the eGovernment Register. I’ve picked out my favourite blog posts from these blogs to highlight how useful sharing this information can be for local government website innovators and citizens alike.

1. Aberdeenshire Council

Blog post chosen: User-testing – The results

Even though this particular blog post chosen is a bit old (published in October 2008), I feel the information shared is still relevant to us today. It talks about how they used the thinkaloud protocol in their user testing of their new library website.

Thee thinkaloud protocol asked users to speak through what they were clicking on, and why.

Specifics that they wanted to look at on the new design were

  • First Impressions
  • New Site vs. Old
  • Navigation
  • On page links
  • External and Related Links Box
  • Colours
  • Page width
  • A-Z on every page

2. Bracknell Forest Council

Blog post chosen: Find local health services

This blog post talks about Bracknell Forest Council being one of the first local authorities in the country to use data syndicated by the NHS.

3. Brent Council

Blog post chosen – 2 blog posts were chosen

  • Brent going green project – This blog posts highlight how Brent Council is using the BRAIN community website, a Facebook siteTwitter feed and YouTube videos to run the campaign.  The project, which is funded by the IDeA, aims to help Brent residents reduce their energy consumption and explore the ways in which online social media can increase awareness of climate change issues.
  • NHS Choices Data –  This blog post, similarly to Bracknell Forest blog post, talks about use of NHS Choices Data and how Brent is using it on the Brent Council website. Very interesting usage of maps, gadgets, widgets and property pages.

4. Eden District Council

Blog post chosen: Inaccessibility of videos – is YouTube failing the public sector?

This blog post highlights a very important issue in regards to accessibility of local council websites, especially when implementing social media applications. Eden District Council talks about how their embedded YouTube videos was almost certainly going to cause major access barriers for at least one group of people.

5. Lincolnshire County Council

Blog post chosen: Schools to access vital information thanks to George!

This blog post talks about how schools around the county will soon be able to access an array of information thanks to the implementation of George into schools.  George – the County Council’s intranet system – is a vital communication tool which allows important information to be accessed quickly and easily by staff throughout the organisation.

6. St. Helens Council

Blog post chosen: Council website redesign – Consultation now on!

This is an interesting blog post by St. Helens Council inviting users to participate in their consultation for the council’s website redesign. Have a look at what people said on about their test website in the comments and what they have asked people to look at.

7. Warwickshire County Council

Blog post chosen: There are so many interesting blog post on this website. I recommend you read them all but maybe these ones will be of most interest.

  1. Data Visualisation
  2. Making Visionary Strategy a Practical Reality: The Open Data project
  3. Warwickshire Already Using the Cloud
  4. Open Data: Building the tools to help you Hack Warwickshire.
  5. How the Warwickshire iPhone App will lead to open data

8. City of Lincoln Council

Blog post chosen: Bin Calendar Search, version 3

This blog post talks about how the web development team at Lincoln worked on their bin calendar search following some feedback on the service.

9. Stratford-on-Avon Council Labs

Stratford-on-Avon Council has taken a slightly more innovative approach to their web development site. They’ve created a lab called SDC Labs that has been created to help share current and future website developments with the public.  Once developments have been approved, completed and implemented they will become graduates of labs.

Tips on setting up a local government web development blog/site

1. Decide who your audience is and what type of website do you want it to be. I found that some councils took the approach of news type blog posts, informing citizens on development of the site. Some councils like Camden, took the route of sharing strategies and research data that we’ve collated over the duration of our website redesign project. And then there are innovative sites like Stratford-on-Avon Council Labs who experiment and create tools.

2. Share your experiences – I find that the only way to truly tap into the benefits of local government web development blogs/sites is to actually share your experience. There are so many problems and issues with local government websites that we need to deal with and the burden can be reduced by sharing with others and learning from them too.

3.  Find out what else is out there – Yes, its great to talk about your own development but sometimes it helps to keep a fresh mind by finding out what others are up to and acknowledging to those parties that you are listening. Write about how you’ve learnt from other councils and congratulate them on their efforts. Encouragement from our growing community can boost our motivation to increase the effectiveness and efficiencies of our own council websites.

Hope this was useful!

About Liz Azyan

Liz is a CREATIVE digital professional dedicated to helping individuals, governments and businesses realize their digital goals. She offers digital consultancy services on her website LizAzyan.com Liz is also a Google Fellowship Recipient (individuals selected based on their work and initiative in the arenas of technology, politics and social entrepreneurship), an invited expert panel on the Guardian’s Public Leader Network and has spoken at many public events and conferences on the subject of digital engagement.

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