Now that I’m no longer actively involved in managing a website for a Local Council I’m freed of the bonds of the daily arguments and angst.
Being outside allows me a certain clarity of view, but in some ways that’s false too. It’s really easy from this position to throw brickbats. You only have to read the Better Connected Review to see how those with no responsibility, no pressures – political or otherwise can take a view on what is outside of their purview. Better still listen to Jonathan Davies commentating on 6 nations rugby. Why didn’t he play like he talks? The answer is simple. It just isn’t that easy when you’re inside; in amongst it as it were.
The point of this piece is to attempt to throw some light onto ‘why the differences’ in what is being delivered. You’d think all councils would be same wouldn’t you? As you know that isn’t so.
Here goes. A stab at a very simplistic approach:
Is your council open, transparent and essentially honest? I mean really open and honest. Not just full of spin. If so then you’re in with a chance of providing a site which is truly ( and I hate the term) ‘Engaging’.
If, on the other hand, spin, gloss and obfuscation are endemic in your organisation then you stand little chance of getting data out to your clients. Probably, because it would be politically damaging to do so, you will be blocked or at best ‘slowed down’ when wishing to publish flat unambiguous, clear data.
Just as a test; were you forced to publish the ‘over £500’ spend by the impending governments deadline or did you publish well before you were obliged to?If you were forced by the deadline or you haven’t published them yet… sort of answers itself.
So councils web sites can, and I would argue do, provide some evidence of the innards of the council; the ‘type of council you are’ sort of thing. Publish everything = open, honest and transparent. And of course the reverse is true.
Is it just the politics of the situation though? Probably not. Large Councils are multi departmental, multi disciplinary and comprise a heady mix of service delivery, back office and of course, the politicos. That makes for teams and even tribes and that means it’s difficult for any web team to get at data embedded within those groups/tribes/departments.
Seamless delivery assumes all managers are equally up to speed with the processes and benefits of electronically delivered data. I’d like to bet that any of you reading this will know somebody who is still firmly paper-based. I can certainly name a few, so wresting information from them and making it electronic will be hard, if not impossible until they get their heads out of the filing cabinets and drawers or after they have fell, or have been pushed, off the twig.
We see therefore, a functioning, seamless and ( here’s that word again) engaging council web site is subject to many forces and pressures, usually from outside the control of those who are supposed to manage, or even be responsible for, the process. Paradoxical isn’t it? But how do you resolve such a situation?
- The political will has to be there to be open, transparent and honest.
- Tribal barriers need to be removed or overcome in some other way.
- Staff responsible for holding data have to be aware and switched on to the idea of doing so electronically.
A difficult nut to crack? Difficult but not impossible. Ways of resolving the issues flow from the Chief Executive and the Leader, certainly the first point can’t be overcome without their conscious and conspicuous buy in and action. And the underlined term is crucial.
Additionally, their conspicuous involvement – applying large amount of pressure if needs be – to remove the second and third obstruction will put web produced information front and centre. Which is where it should be because it’s more cost effective to do so. It’s the first place you should put the information. It should not be an afterthought or a bolt on.
This is so obvious I’m surprised it’s not taken up everywhere. I know from experience it isn’t. As an example a head of service said to me one day “I’ll see if I can get you some information for your web site”.
“YOUR” web site! It makes you think doesn’t it?