Public Sector Forums (PSF) held an event in Birmingham last week called 'The Future of Local Authority Websites and How They're Assessed'. It was basically about SOCITM's annual report on local government (LGov) websites, Better Connected, which has come in for a lot of criticism. Particularly on PSF's forums and by PSF authors.
The day led off with a detailed, quietly devastating critique from accessibility champion, Dan Champion (aptly named). Point by point he layed out the charges, which fed off bad publicity vs accessibility for LGov sites from last year's Better Connected.
Stepping up to hear this were both the report's main author, Martin Greenwood, and SOCITM's new President, Richard Steel. There was a fair bit of anger in the room because for some web teams they end up being assessed internally because of what's written in Better Connected and accessibility has become a judgment point. Peter Barton has gone off on one about precisely this problem in this week's PSF features (nb. .gov.uk only access).
So it was worth noting that Martin and Richard showed up to hear it and Richard accepted a lot of the "frank and open discussion". Well, that was what I heard (others didn't).
The problem I have with the criticism is that it misses the bigger picture.
For example, I praised Martin's work in the report on usability because this is not the result of some big, Whitehall-led push. It's his and SOCITM's own initiative and exactly the sort of mainstream web issue which is currently almost invisible in egov.
But wait there's more, lots more. As I wrote in response to Minister Tom Watson's question 'OK then, what aren't we doing', I can name ten things off the top of my head.
- Disengagement from the wider web and those damned walled gardens
- Engaging the industry
- Widgetising services
- Engaging the local
- Cheaper usability methods
- Fixations on 'engagement'
- Utilising reputation
The anger and energy in the room needs to be directed towards Whitehall and egov leadership as well as towards what we can do in the absence of it, for ourselves, rather than fighting amongst ourselves (as I said).
Jeremy Gould has posted today about how the COI is going about developing some new guidance and lays out how the methods they're using to do this are an exemplar of how not to.
But he also says we shouldn't wait for government and we have to organise ourselves.
This was the other aspect to the day, which was a discussion of the development of the embryonic Public Sector Web Managers Group (PSWMG) — which may, I hope, change it's name! I'm one of the initiators and group members have already done some work, including writing a response for the COI's new guidance.
We're hoping to organise at some point over the next few months a first proper national meeting and there was discussion about this at the end of the day in Birmingham. There are a lot of issues to sort out, not the least of which is exactly what it is and should do and how it can be made sustainable.
But, as Jeremy suggested, taking the bull by the horns and just writing our own guidance — as government webbies — is definitely one of the things it must do. And this can only help Better Connected in what should be it's true role - guidance not judgment.
- If you're in egov — and this is all public sector and includes consultants and suppliers — please sign up to PSWMG.
Gem from the day. Glyn Evans of Birmingham City Council says that 40% of Brummies use the web (I suspect that's actually a conservative estimate) but only 3% have used the Council's website. This talks to the bigger issue which accepts 18% 'take-up' (Schools admissions) as a raving success and which is the bigger picture I addressed in One year on: Ten answers for Minister Watson. (I've also blogged about how to do better than 18%).
Richard Steel presented about web teams being part of ICT — he blogs about the day and his presentation here. Once I get the OK to reproduce this so you can see what he said, I'll respond here (I respectfully disagreed!).