Thursday, 26 June 2014

A single website for local government

This week I've seen discussion about a "single website for local government", so I think it's important to clarify what's being talked about when we're talking about local authority websites.

Council websites deliver information to residents; that's traditionally been their core task and if they're following the LocalGov Digital Content Standards, where possible they've linked to a definitive source rather than write a page themselves, unless they're the definitive source of the information themselves.

This means that the 500 to 1000 pages on the site all serve a purpose. This content could be put into a central local government site (if that's not an oxymoron) but it still takes someone to author and edit these pages that are specific to each council, so putting them all on one site isn't really going to be any more efficient.

So that's information, but councils offer a lot more online and many will have a collection of forms or a set of digital services. Take Solihull's Missed Bin Collection form that supplies some of the data to this experimental dashboard, built with the Government Digital Service. There's also West Berkshire's Service Site with over 100 digital services and a real-time dashboard of activity. Yes, again you could replicate this centrally, but you'd have to work with each team delivering each service in each council for every digital service to make sure it was fit for purpose.

It doesn't end there. If you're looking for a planning application you'll probably be directed to another website, for example here's Newcastle's public access planning search. It's different from their website.

Library books? That's usually another site, here's Worcestershire's library catalogue on a separate to site to their main content.

Want to find out about your councilor? That's another site and here's Surrey's separate My Council site as an example.

I could go on and give examples for consultations, petitions, family information services, local offers, social care information directories, school admissions, job applications, and more, potentially all on different sites, but I hope you get the idea.

When someone talks about "a single website for local government", ask them which of the above they're hoping to include and if it's just information and they're not thinking about reusable digital services for local government, ask them to think again about the bigger picture of the services local governments offer their residents.
This blog is written by Phil Rumens, Vice-Chair of LocalGov Digital, lead for LGMakers and who manages the digital services team at a local authority in England.

The opinions expressed in this weblog are my own personal views and in no way represent any organisation I may have worked for, currently work for, might be thinking of working for, might not be thinking of working for or have never worked for. In fact having said that they, might not even be my views any more as I might have changed my mind so I wouldn't take any of it too seriously.