I’m such a hypocrite.

Carl Haggerty has raised the questions around the use of WordPress  in the public sector here on his blog…

Carls Blog

Some years back I took over responsibility for the web presence of the council where I work. At the time there were some 18 or so web sites all purporting in some way to be ‘a’, or even ‘the’, County Council web site. The results could best be described as patchy with one or two being knocked up by the schoolboy neighbour of a member of staff and stuck up on Freeserve – if any of you remember that.

In my opinion the overall impression was of chaos, inaccessibility and bad taste. Over a period of time these sites were culled – not without some considerable dispute – and all were incorporated into a couple of sites broadly split along the schools and rest of the organisation line.

There were a lot of benefits flowing from that action not least of which was an improvement in our image. We also benefitted from the singularity by centralising the web function – so we weren’t replicating this in different pockets around the organisation and incurring costs all over the place. The action also allowed us to have a recognised budget for a recognised activity.

Since then much has changed. We still have disputes with sections of the organisation wishing to employ their own web designers but we are seeing fewer of these ’discussions’.

We centralised the web publishing activity after a two year trial where we devolved publishing to over 100 directorate based publishers. We found only a handful were consistent publishers. The remainder published so infrequently they forgot how to, so we spent most of our time training and re-training. And the quality was suspect too which meant we were editing just about everything. All publishers were created equal it seems,  but some were more equal than others, so we pulled it all into a small dedicated web team.

Where am I going with this?

I love WordPress and other blogging tools. Like most other people I see these as not so much blogs per se, but web sites. Why then am I worried about the use of these as a general local government tool?

What concerns me with their wider use is it would be taking a step back to the period when we had 18 web sites – only this time there would be hundreds with all of the potential for chaos, bad taste, misuse and fracture that brings. And if you think web teams have a problem with this then that is nothing to what  comms teams would think about the potential for reputation cock ups embedded in such a free and easy system.

“Because you run a web team you would say that wouldn’t you”. “This is just self interest talking isn’t it?”. Yes I can see how those comments could be fired at me. And yes I have considered them, but a flat NO is the answer.

Could you see any private sector  large organisation allowing their staff free and easy use of blogging systems to produce any web site they wish? I think not. We too are large organisations but with the added requirement and obligation to comply with statute and standards of practice. Those requirements  cant  be handled by  a  laissez faire, free and casual attitude to information and service delivery via simplistic devolved web production.

I can see Carl’s point on partnership sites. They have been a perennial problem for us. Our view on these is that if the County Council is putting up more than 50% of the money then the site gets done via our systems. If we are putting up less than the 50% then the site must comply with standards i.e. legal, decent, honest and especially, accessible – though I admit this is difficult to both enforce and police. I suppose it’s more of an aspiration.

Am I standing, Canute like, facing the advancing waves of staff/team web sites? I hope not but who knows what’s around the corner both in terms of economic and technical changes. I can but hope.

Worse still I’m a hypocrite. The web team runs a blog aimed essentially at heads of service and above as well as the councils members. So here I am arguing one thing and essentially doing another. Such is the contradiction that social media / web 2 raises in the public sector, but we are overcoming this soon with an ‘internal only’ answer to blogs. At least I have an excuse and an eventual get out from under my hypocrisy .

Interested in your views.


5 thoughts on “I’m such a hypocrite.

  1. I have the same concerns about going backwards in terms proliferation of sites, but I guess I would want to see a more controlled roll out of the use of sites like wordpress to allow innovative web design and features to be piloted at a lower cost and perhaps lower risk (separate debate here I know)

    The reality is that as web managers we will gave to manage the increase in chaos whilst also supporting radical innovation.

    Interesting times ahead

    • I was reading something recently by an individual, a photographer, who was talking about the contradictions in his modern life. Perhaps I am reflecting that comment. I think we as people and as web managers are somehow 2 headed – what we would like to do and what we know is going to give us serious grief. Contradictions… is that somehow modern life?
      In the short time I have to run in Local Government I just cant see things changing. It’s simply the too difficult basket.

  2. Absolutely agree on the issue of the proliferation of websites messing up the brand of the council etc. and we operate the same policy i.e. 50%+ of funding means they must use the CMS/brand. We do allow some sub-sites but the branding is clearly part of the suite. As to blogs, I think the danger is the time spent in keeping up with all the various communications/blogs coming from outside the council. Perhaps concentrate on using the Communities of Practice offered by ID&EA. see http://www.communities.idea.gov.uk ? Maybe Digital People?

    • I can certainly see the need for a person, or persons, in local authorities who are permanently plugged in. To use that hackneyed 60’s cliche, who are feeling the vibe. There is so much going out there which is below the radar of stiff LG orgs and of course that is a growing group. Has that group reached critical mass yet. Of course they have. WAKE UP folks.

  3. I think it’s important not to see WordPress simply as a ‘blogging tool’ any more.

    The web management issue (proliferation of sites and users producing copy that simply isn’t relevant/high quality/web ready) will always be a problem in large organisations, regardless of platform. That’s a management issue, not a software issue.

    The fact is that adaptable, extensible open source CMS (such as WordPress) are capable of wiping out many of the costs traditionally associated with public sector web.

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