My apologies to Dudley Moore for stealing the words for the title but you get the drift.
After 15 years in local government, the majority of which was spent involved in web provision, I’m kicking the habit. I left full time employment at LCC December 2010. I’ve been busy since with a number of projects, one of which was writing for this blog.
It’s amazing what 10 months away from daily involvement in LG web sites can do. I’ve developed a fresh perspective on my time in Local Government in general and on the provision of Local Government (LG) web sites in particular.
Working in LG was like banging my head against a wall. Not a brick wall you understand but one entirely constructed from peoples ignorance, individual resistance, bureaucracy, petty empires, small and large ‘P’ politics, resistance from directorates to provide ‘meaningful’ data for clients to use, self interest – largely in protecting jobs that moving to a truly digital solution would put at risk and much, much more.
In the main it has seemed as though the client didn’t matter. Oh yes there was a stated desire to assist the client but it just felt like lip service. It – whatever ‘it’ was – ticked a box or met one standard or another. What appeared more important was the desperation to spend budgets – no matter how much duplication that involved – as well as the continued aggrandisement of the individual, directorate or silo. And the silo is the elephant in the room in local government. Despite the desire to collapse the ‘separate’ business silo mentality of the giant directorates it still exists. It’s alive and well and thriving in a highways, or other directorate near you. And that’s divisive and expensive. And, setting aside the obstruction silo ethos places in the way of the management of the whole organisation, it makes running an effective web presence almost impossible.
The overriding frustration felt by me, and no doubt by many more web folks, is the inherent meddling amateurism in local government. Not in the services they deliver of course i.e. social care, roads, education etc. are all delivered very professionally I’m sure, but in the ancillaries where, for example, some staff in local government consider themselves graphic artists because they can use Word or they can knock up a web site using some torrid templates.
The output of the local government ‘graphic artist’ can be seen stuck up on the walls all around the organisation. Worthy posters, with the headline forming an arch at the top of the page with every letter being a different colour, proliferate. And of course they use a different font for every line.
It’s this same ‘design consciousness’ they bring to what they want of web output. What with this acceptance of palpable visual tat and the “we know best” attitude – and not just in their own speciality – of many local government managers it comes as no surprise it has taken so long to climb out of the mire of bad practices that have held back LG web site development. e.g. local government web sites put together by somebody’s 16 year old next door neighbour and hosted on Freeserve.
Why do I say meddling? Let me give you an example. During a robust discussion about a web presence I asked a manager in social care if her mother was in care to which she answered “Yes”. I asked her if she would like me to look after her mother? Of course she said “No”. And rightly so because I know nothing about social care. So I asked her why she insisted on telling me how I was going to construct her web presence and what it should look like? To these meddling amateurs I would say “You have a job. Get on with it. And leave the web stuff to web people.”
… and councillors.
And then we come to councillors. There are some joyful exceptions but in the main councillors aren’t concerned with web sites – unless they’re mentioned on one of course – because many of them struggle with computers in general. As a result they see all this ‘tinterweb’ stuff as pointless. And it is these digital illiterates who have sway over what web stuff looks like, what it says and the way it’s used but more importantly on how much is spent on it. The life digital poses a large threat to digital illiterates and if they have control of the strings of the purse from which the required money should flow there’s not too much hope for advancement is there?
Councillors who know a little are even more dangerous. In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king. Of course their position makes them the font of all knowledge, certainly in relation to some of their colleagues who required training even to use a mouse. My experience delivered a Councillor who ran a one man web “design” business and this of course made him an expert on running a many thousand page fully interactive web site compliant with all of the standards inflicted on LG web sites. He alone was responsible for dragging the web site I was once responsible for back 5 years. (this para updated 2.1 2013)
Slow to Change
You are involved in a sector which is slow to change. One where, in some places, metaphorically, the quill pen has only just gone out of existence. One where the ‘typing pool’ mentality persists in some directorates. One where deference to know-nothings is the order of things. And one which is really scared of the electronic world and what it can do, particularly social media because it allows the people to speak directly, and with a sizeable voice. But change it will. Change is constant and inevitable.
The web site as a central hub. Put the web first.
There is no doubting the LG web presence will become the hub around which the administration of the organisation will spin. The web will deliver more services and that will undoubtedly grow. But it starts with ‘put the web first’. If you have a project bring in the web team first. Not as an afterthought, but as a FIRST THOUGHT. Only when you have exhausted the possibilities of service or information delivery via the web should you start on other methods. A vibrant, effective web team given the software and the resources – but more especially the AUTHORITY – will deliver the customer service the public want and you will see those much needed savings, providing of course you understand ‘electronificating’* services doesn’t need as many people. But that’s just the point isn’t it? There’s a strong element of ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’ in driving your systems towards digital and there’s the rub, the resistance point if you like on the road towards real, palpable cost savings.
The best of luck in your endeavours. And thanks for your interest and comments.
Over and out.
*please excuse my made up Bush-ism but it seems to work.
I’ll leave this blog up as a means of reference for any of the material you may find useful.