LG Comms event discusses ways to improve council websites

At an LG Comms event last week at the Hammersmith town hall, attendees discussed how councils can improve online services.

According to Simon Jones, Director of Communications & Policy at Hammersmith & Fulham Council, even though H&F has online services available to residents 24/7, nudging people to use them is a massive challenge.

He gave attendees the example of the White City council website which had low engagement and where residents had low confidence in its services. However, when Team White City was launched, the dynamic changed. It encourages local businesses to post jobs free of charge and it has moulded public services around people and 85% of people say they have pride in the area – the number has doubled in the last 2 years.

Moreover, the website has 1,000 unique visitors daily mainly through mobile devices and the website is mobile compatible.

However, he said that many are unaware the council is behind the website and so to some extent they have had to sacrifice their reputation.

Tim Pitts Managing Partner at Agilisys was up next and, according to him, the digital landscape much more than just technology; Digital is becoming default but requires trust.

According to him, over half of the people who call a council find the number online so there is a willingness to use the web but people often don’t mind what they are looking for on the council website and this needs to change.

His advice includes:

  • Local authority sites have thousands of pages of content but the average citizen will be interested in 1-2 of them – councils need to find a way to get the right content to the user
  • The UK is the world leader in eCommerce with 13% of all purchases now done online. This means that the public sector can learn from the private sector: it is investing the most in improving their customer’s online experience and its number one design focus is on ‘call to action’ – a banner or button asking users to click it to perform some kind of action.
  • Convenience, pre-empting contact and personalisation are key lessons to be learnt from the private sector
  • Listen to negative feedback and learn from it; put the customer at the centre
  • Keep in mind that budget cuts mean such ideas are more acceptable and are often pushed down from above
  • While electoral services are online take up is low because of the way the message is relayed to the citizen – a long URL at the bottom of a letter delivered by post. No one will go to that.
  • Policy changes such as channel variation (access to library PCs, 24/7 webchat) and financial incentives (discount for bookings made online) and disincentives (charging extra for paper applications) are necessary
  • Non-policy based actions are also important: remove contact numbers from the website; print only the website address on envelope; ensure list of transactions online are clear and remove phone / email; put a big sticker on every household bin pushing digital; Use QR codes on street furniture; use school, leisure centres and libraries to adopt digital first in their materials.

However, some in the audience were concerned about online services. One spokesperson for Hackney Council said that it sounds great theoretically but the services themselves have to be great before they are offered online and responding to incidents when they are reported online requires more staff.

He did say that Hackney has a website for renting out venues and making bookings but this was from Olympic and lottery fund which other services may not have.

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