FOI watch now active.

All local authorities receive freedom of information  requests (FOI’s) and whilst not many relate to the provision of the council web sites when they do come in they can be quite complex. And generally these FOI’s are sent to many organisations.

The FOI watch list in the tabs above is a simple listing of FOI’s relevant to Council web sites that have been received recently.

If you have received an FOI which isn’t there then upload yours for others to see what they may be having to answer soon.

So, do you think you are worth your money?

Socitm’s Better Connected boss, Martin Greenwood, recently admitted that there’s no news in good news so he simply spins the very small bad end of a fact so Socitm make the headlines. And he is not alone. Recent FOI’s (Freedom of Information) requests have been probing the costs of  local government web sites and wishing to pitch that against how many users there are of those services. I suppose to arrive at some sort of cost per visit or page impression. All very galling for the hard working web managers.

That aside for a moment… there is a huge amount of chatter in the system about ‘channel shifting’ where the intent of managers is to drive users to a cheaper channel to deliver the service, and there is none cheaper than the web with it’s pence per use as opposed to the many pounds per use of phone and face to face.
Nobody is suggesting, at least not yet, you can hold an old persons hand via the web. I suppose that will come at about the same time as somebody wins the challenge of delivering a pint of beer across the web. Lets face it there will always be the face to face and the phone call requirement. And so it should be.
Where the web can help is the provision of information and support. A colleague at the Lincolnshire County Council produced a good visual for this in her attempt to prove another fact. If I may paraphrase what she said… she suggested that our major services were like christmas baubles in a jar where the supporting and separating media was fine grains of sand. For me that sand is the web. Granular, connected and supportive with the ability to shift in any direction at the first sign of movement in any of the substantive services.
Back to your worth. It was suggested in an article on Lincolnshire County Council’s ‘waistline’ blog (July 2009) the way to measure the worth of the web to any organisation was to (mentally) turn it off and to measure the impact on the organisation. Just what would you have to put in to replace what the web provided. The answer was not surprising. Millions of pounds of investment and service would need to be installed to replace even a small part of what the web does for a council.
You can see the article here…

So the next time you are asked to justify your existence or the council’s expenditure in the web, use this as a template for your own calculations. You and your service are cost effective to a level that may surprise even you. Doing this will also make you feel better when you see incorrect and biased things written about what you do. Now that can’t be bad.
btw… the picture is of Lincolnshire County Council’s web manager, Jean Trahearn. The switch really was that big. It was in a shop in Regent St. Photoshop put the wording on.
Imagine if there was such a switch. It doesn’t bear thinking about the consequences of the switch being flipped does it?

What would Google do?

I was given a book recently: one I had not heard of but having read only the first 40 pages I wished I had read it much earlier.
It’s called “What would Google do” by Jeff Jarvis. I suppose it’s a parody of ‘what would jesus do’. I’m not here to discuss the omnipotence of Jesus or Google. That’s a whole different discussion better conducted by somebody who has an interest in such things.
No this is about Google, what they have done, what they do and how what they have done has changed forever business models across the world.
Now you may be thinking ‘It’s about business so it wont interest us in local government’. You could not be more wide of the mark if you faced the other direction.
Something I learned long ago in my marketing days was you should listen to people who complain. Afterall they have taken the time to write or call you to tell you about your service. You wont learn from people who tell you how good you are.
Jarvis promotes the theory that your worst customer is your best friend and I couldn’t agree more. Listen to your complaining customers and do something about what they say. You won’t regret it.
This book will show you more about customer service in the 21st century than most courses you could take. And it’s a hell of a lot cheaper.
Go look for it on Amazon or other book service site. It really will be worth it.

More on Advertising on LG web sites

Interesting blog by Ian Cuddy on advertising on LG web sites.
As he says in the blog Lincolnshire County Council was amongst those at the start of this. Our involvement started back in 2008.
Surprisingly there was little resistance at high level and amongst the Cllrs to the insertion of advertising per se. There was of course much discussion about the how and the what of advertising on our site.
It’s fair to say we started with the most “intrusive” ( as judged by others) offering with 3 adverts running on a page and all of them moving.
Since the start we have moved to a single add running on a page. Not all of our adverts are animated either.
The most significant issue we had was from a surprising source. We served over 2 million pages to the general public with less than a literal handful of complaints. However in the first few days we had much in the way of criticism from our internal staff.
The sort of quotes we had were of the type of “how dare you put adverts on my pages”. I found that refreshing because for some years the web team had difficulty in getting anyone to take ownership for any web pages at all!
However advertising has not been removed from our site and so far as I can see there is no pressure to do so from managers or Cllrs. The web budgets show a requirement to generate income from advertising.
How has it gone?
It could best be described as patchy. And it doesn’t help we were setting this off in a run up to the recession.
Have we made money?
Yes but it’s not huge amounts… but considering we do absolutely nothing to achieve that income. Well you decide.
Would we use Google ads?
At present we are not looking at placing Google ads into our site. There seems to be a difficulty in controlling what appears on the site. For my part I do not wish to provide the internal dissenters with a perfectly reasonable excuse to shut off advertising.
You can read a piece we wrote in June 2008 about what we went through to get advertising on our site and also the results of some tests we had carried out by ‘Usability Exchange’ on how adverts were perceived by partially sighted or blind users.
You can find that information here…
The centre pane contains the usability exchange results and the piece written in 2008 is over on the right as a pdf entitled ‘advertising on the web’.


In a recent reply to a blog on UK authority…
Martin Greenwood says…”the data behind our calculation of £11m a month losses to councils from web failures is extremely robust”.
I beg to differ. I don’t believe it is robust at all, which is why I described their results as laughable but lets continue.
Socitms figure is calculated from some 20% of questions as being shown as unanswered by LG web sites. This they derive from respondees to the online questions who said they were unable to find what they were seeking on the site.
Setting aside that 80% did find what they wanted – and I am pleased that Martin Greenwood agrees this shows an annual saving of over half a billion pounds for councils – lets see what the 20% Socitm commented on was made up of.
I can of course only discover only Lincolnshire’s “missing information” and that is from the same information Martin Greenwood uses.
In January there were around 460 respondents who said they couldn’t find what they were looking for. What they said in their reply was also shown.
It is intriguing that even using Socitm’s own logic and figures it shows that 11 of those expressed frustration in finding something because the online questionnaire interfered with their quest. Now if my calculations are correct that is 0.24% of the respondents. And that as a percentage of the annual “losses” according to Socitm would equate to .SOCITM WEB SITE SURVEY COSTS COUNCILS £320,000 A YEAR BY DISGRUNTLING CLIENTS’
And, of course there are many others that were not weeded out of Socitms figures. ‘Could not finds’ that are unanswerable and yet included to justify this, yes, laughable, report.
Here are just a few of some from our January report. This is the information people were looking for according to Socitm. Information Socitm seem to think we should provide and are somehow remiss for not doing so. These reproduced below are shown as they came in. Names have been removed.
• 16th century handwriting information
• kjhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
• Looking for a convict born Lincs but tried in London
• aircraft pictures
• could not download logo for This is Art
• couldn’t find the tables and then computer froze when downloading a pdf
• “Details of my ancestor Rev’d (name removed by PB) of Gedney parish.
• Does LCC think that is OK to transport primary school children four in a taxi, but only three can sit on a booster seat due to lack of room across the rear seat.
• I am looking for an ancestor named (Name removed PB) who moved to Elton, I think because of the railways
• I am looking to research the history of cottage in New Bolingbroke
• I am researching a convict to Australia, (name removed PB)The website gave me an overview of his crime. Now I need to get a detailed report of the court Assizes.
• I am trying to find out about a local paper which on Thursday 3 September 1942 reported on the parade at Cranwell for the National Day of Prayer. A letter from my uncle (who was killed in 1943 and whose life I am researching) says that Paramont took pictures for the news and that there would be picutres in “Friday’s Sketch”. I don’t know how to find the Sketch and back copies. I thought this site might be worth a try, but I can’t see anything to help – but it was a long shot!
• I could not find details about a possible ancestor born in Billingborough
• I could not find why Branston was called Branston Allotments in the early 19th century. Ancestors come from there and this detail is on the census forms of the day. I will try the records office which we have previously visited to great success.
• i found the events section but nothing at all for Woodhall Spa
• I found the information on your holdings to be excellent. I was hoping to find church records online. Since I live far away I cannot access the archives.
• I found the service but was dissatisfied by the outcome.
• I need to talk with someone who will be able to answer the rest of my problems
• I wanted a small holiday touring through bulbfields,I think I will have to go to Holland.
• I wanted to find a list of allotments in Linconshire. I will contact SKDC direct
• I was looking for an inquest from 10th Oct 1936 for one (name removed by PB)
• I was looking for discussion notes on a book I have just read.
• “I was looking to see if my grandmother’s obituary was published in the local newspaper. She died in 1964.”
• I work for another COuncil, and have been browsing a number of Council sites and this was just one of them – so is just part of the picture.
• info about eating facilities at the Plowright Theatre.
• It didn’t tell me what i wanted to hear!! Not your fault, not enough snow to close the school!
• Looking for a convict born Lincs but tried in London
• still want to know history of why we came from france to work in castle as armours for the king
• you had my g,g,grandfather named in one of your pages but could get nothing further this would have been a bonus plus for me infinding something.
I’m not saying we are perfect but neither is Socitm’s report or the logic on which it is based.
Now if in some way I have this wrong I am sure Mr Greenwood will enlighten me.

Web mangers are saving upwards of £44million a month for their councils

I want to ask you all a simple question.
When confronted with an individual, either face to face or via the phone, how many times, when asked, have you said their service is bad?

And now another simple question.
When provided with an on-line questionnaire, anonymised at that, asking the same question, how many of you have rated the service poorly?

Lastly, how many of us talk to the recorded customer service voice in a disparaging manner only to be charming to the human who finally answers, even if you have been waiting for 20 minutes?

The British are inherently civil and have no great desire to be confrontational or rude so when talking to an individual we are going to say nicer things than in reply to a machine. It stands to reason. At least to most of us but not it seems to Socitm.

Socitm compare the amount of satisfactory responses they get face to face or on the phone directly with those derived from ticking boxes. These are not apples compared with apples. And yet from this they suggest users are far more unhappy with the web performance than the other two. And even more staggering is they extrapolate this result using it to suggest LG web sites are costing the tax payer £11 million a month! What!

The oversimplification is breathtaking. Lincolnshire County Council for example has a box on every page of their web site asking if the client found what they wanted. Responses like “Your web site is crap because you don’t have any jobs I like.” are not unusual. Would they make such an inane comment to a real person? Of course not. This speaks volumes of the comparison made by Socitm but even more of the type of question the web site is asked. Not to mention the ability of a human respondent to clarify the questions so as to provide a better answer. Web sites don’t have that flexibility and have to respond to the questions as asked – no matter how badly phrased.

This is not to say local government web sites are perfect. Far from it but neither do they deserve the headline grabbing trite comments recently emanating from Socitm.

Let me just hold the mirror up to their recent comment…
Firstly to draw out £11million losses per month from such vague data is laughable. That said there is of course no benefit to Socitm of saying that nearly 80% of visitors actually “find” what they want – thereby saving some £44million per month (which is of course the corollary of their quote). No, better to tub thump about how bad local government is in order to drive the sheep towards their fold.

What a great quote that would be for us wouldn’t it. “Web mangers are saving upwards of £44million a month for their councils”. And if we use Socitm’s figures, that is precisely what they have proven.

Good news sells no services for Socitm – so don’t expect any. Instead self serving constructs seem the order of the day in the Socitm press office.

You believe what you like. £11million a month losses quoted by Socitm on one hand or “over half billion pounds a year savings are made by local government web sites” proven by those same figures on the other.

Better connected is going to be fun based on this I suspect.

For another view on just how much we – the web site managers- save the councils take a look here… …

Also posted on PSF