The age of the “Git Citizen”

I was at the “building perfect council web sites” event  at Olympia today.

Interesting opening talk by Jos Creese who is Head of IT at Hampshire CC and President of Socitm for the year.

Lots of stuff I didn’t agree with but more that I did, so on balance a good talk. I bumped into another head of web service at another council who ”thought it was the best speech by a Socitm president she had heard.”  “He was saying all the things we have known for years”  she said. I’m not certain about that but he certainly pressed some of the buttons.

He talked about re-shaping council offerings for the digital age and how sites should be developed in line with customer demand. He encouraged a degree of personalisation of the sites but that personalisation should be under users control.

One aspect of his talk I agreed with was his view that  Partnership web site construction is a good thing. He said that Hampshire shared with over  1000 sites of different sorts.

When asked a question about costs of all this he said “We are not able to do it on our own” whilst talking of shared services.

He made it clear we were set for radical change which we should welcome.   And perhaps some of those changes , with sharing more information and answering social media sites,  may  increase the number of FOI requests. This, he argued, was the inevitable bow-wave resulting from such huge changes and we should be ready for it.

He said we should take a leap of faith with what we are doing, much as we did I suppose at the birth of use of the web and e-mail. There may be political issues but we should press ahead removing the silo mentality in our sites; the public is blind to those silo’s.

Another aspect that chimed with me was his suggestion that we remove the bureaucracy surrounding much of what we do – that is getting rid of  rigid policies and procedures. Perhaps, he suggested, we should allow the managers to be more in control. Hmmm. I cant somehow see UK Local Government releasing the reigns with the alacrity, or for that matter the ease, he is suggesting. Ours is a controlled society, some of that control is political, and I cant see that changing very quickly, can you?

Next there were three talks by people involved in social networking.

First came a talk by  Dr. James Munro from Patient Opinion which seemed to be part of the NHS (Not so. See comments below. PDB. I’ll be elevating James to the peerage next) with a very specific, and in my opinion excellent, intent to make it easy for patients to comment on their NHS.

The service looked good. It allowed people to post up their opinions about NHS service,  good or bad, and he in my experience, unsurprisingly, they get a lot of positive comments. The NHS departments concerned can see these comments and can reply and if they change the service they can tell the complainant what they have changed, Excellent. Really good. Why don’t we have that on our web sites? Anyway go and take a look for yourself and use it if you have good or bad service at the hands of the NHS.

Next came a talk by Jane Postlethwaite  from Brighton and Hove. She is their Social media Officer. Much of what she said, though I didn’t hear a great deal being at the back and her being a tad quiet, seemed obvious but… she did say they are coming up with a social media policy. Despite Jos Creese asking us to be less bureaucratic I would like to have a look at that.

Lastly a piece by Nick Booth from PodNosh and founder of Helpmeinvestigate.com. Now this may be the bane of our local government lives but it was an excellent talk.

Nick suggested this was the age of the “Git Citizen” who would ask the  why, how, where and how much etc. because the web has made it possible for them to do so.

The part I liked was the video showing Nick harassing parking attendants (or maybe policemen) for parking illegally. Ace. Loved it and yes it does help that it was in Birmingham and yes I am a Brummie.

Nick entreated us to:

  • Link to everything with permanent links with RSS feeds to just about everything.
  • Tag it all with place names
  • Produce consumable content on our pages
  • Ensure our content is embed-able ( videos etc)
  • And to share data openly..

Doing this would ensure the volunteers who do all this “stuff”can get at our data and do something with it.

An interesting day and as ever a little like the curates egg… good in parts. Nice little earner for Socitm though so that’s alright then.

Peter Barton

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This certainly raises the profligacy bar.

I read an article on the BBC web site today which left me breathless. It related to the cost of public sector web sites, one in particular; One that has cost £105 million pounds over 3 years.

What! How much! Birmingham – bless ‘em ( my home city you see) – was lambasted for their, seemingly now paltry, spend of around £3 million.

I have supported expenditure on local government web sites here where I suggested how the costs of them could be evaluated by conceiving of them being turned off. Yes Switch them off, at least in your imagination, to establish just what you would have to put back in place to replace even part of the interaction you are currently having with your clients.

Anyway, I digress. Just who is it that spends so much money and why have I not seen them splashed about everywhere? At that spend I would expect them to be ubiquitous.

The article is here .

It’s by Rory Cellan-Jones who ‘outs’ the high-spending outfit in his article. So who is it?

It’s none other than Business Link! Yes Business Link, that organisation who formerly advised all sorts of companies on how to run their business! Given that slab of money you have to ask just how many businesses could they have helped in more practical ways? Anyway lets not go there.

For that spend you would imagine Business link are dealing with huge amounts of visitors per month; but no. They have just over 1 million unique visitors on average a month, so thats about £2.90-ish per visitor. To put some comparison to this, Lincolnshire County Councils costs would be around 9pence per visitor.  Against £2.90! Breathtaking.

But should you be surprised? Possibly not. I worked with Business Link for a while some 13 years ago. I’m sure much has changed since – at least I had hoped so – but this seems to have put that hope to the sword. Back then they were a byword for inefficiency and mediocrity, at least in the business community. They showed little ability, apart from being an unnecessary but essential channel to government grants.  Some of their advisors grasp of running real businesses seemed out of step with the day to day reality and now they’re demonstrating  that inpetitude again.

Give the average web manager that sort of fire-power, with the development ability that’s inherent in that budget and things would be very different. Or would they? I’m not so sure because no web manager I know would be daft enough to spend that sort of ‘pounds per visitor’ money without the possibility of any serious justification or better still some sort of return. And if they did they would be put out quicker then a bonfire in a thunderstorm.

Are we all tarred with the same brush? I don’t think so  but try telling that to the average Council tax payer.