Further to my previous blog posts on CMS in English Local Authorities, CMS used by Scottish Local Authorities and CMS used by local authorities in the UK I have created a map of CMS used by Welsh Local Authorities.
Further to my previous blog posts on CMS in English Local Authorities and CMS used by Scottish Local Authorities I have now created a map showing CMS used in the United Kingdom. Unfortunately I had to start from scratch again so this took quite a long time and was a bit laborious, but I hope it will prove useful. I have ordered the map by web content management system. I have listed selected the most used CMS and then added a catch all for the remaining CMS. There are just so many different CMS that its impossible to plot them all as separate sections on Google maps. I only found seven local authorities where I couldn’t detect the CMS that they use. If anyone can help with any of these please contact me via Twitter. Equally if you find any errors please do let me know.
Local authority boundaries used in the map were sourced from the Office for National Statistics licensed under Open Government Licence v.3.0. Many thanks to the ONS for sharing such a useful map.
I’m still planning to create a separate map for CMS used by Welsh local authorities as I promised I’d do this in a previous blog post. Then I think I’ll move onto a new topic and I have some really good ideas on what to focus my personal research, that I think will be very interesting to work on. Watch this space!
Further to my previous blog post on CMS in English Local Authorities I have created a map showing CMS used in Scottish Local Authorities. In due course I’ll also look to do the same for Welsh Local Authorities and then hopefully a combined UK CMS map. These maps are very much a first draft and I’ll look to make improvements over time.
I’ve managed to identify most CMS used by Scottish Local Authorities. There is now just one gap, namely Clackmannanshire. If anyone knows what content management system this council uses then please let me know (if they use a CMS of course).
I have been reviewing CMS used in local government across the UK for the last three years. I’ve shared this personal research with the LocalGov Drupal project and more recently with Dave Briggs, who has carried out some research of his own. This reinvigorated my interest in this subject so I decided to map the CMS used by councils to better understand the geographical spread. To date I have done this for English local authorities, but I’d like to extend it to all UK local authorities if I can find Wales and Scotland authorities in a mapping format (ideally KML).
When I started using web content management systems twenty years ago the majority of councils used proprietary or licensed software. The use of open source was quite marginal and dare I say seemed an option of last resort. I certainly would not have been brave enough in those days to use an open source CMS. How things have changed! Now more and more councils are using open source, the two main ones being Drupal and Umbraco. At Bracknell Forest we started using Drupal 4 years ago and have not looked back. The absence of licensing costs means that any budget can be focussed on developing new functionality and improving customer experience.
When I started using Drupal I could see the opportunities of working with other councils to develop a shared local gov Drupal distribution. Sadly at the time collaboration in local government digital was in its infancy and noone seemed that interested in exploring the opportunities. That all changed when Will Callaghan tweeted about councils working to together to build websites, rather than constantly reinventing the wheel. Will’s efforts and persistence resulted in funding from the MHCLG to make LocalGov Drupal a reality. The growth has been phenomenal (due in most part to the boundless enthusiasm of Will Callaghan, Finn Lewis and countless others) and in the space of what seems a very short time 22 councils are now actively using or about to use LocalGov Drupal.
The map shows that a myriad of CMS are used across England. The leading proprietary CMS providers, Jadu and GOSS dominate much of the landscape. Amongst open source CMS providers, Drupal is used by more councils, but Umbraco has a wider geographical presence. It will be interesting to see how this changes over the next couple of years as LocalGov Drupal gains traction and more councils join the revolution. I don’t use that word lightly here, it is a revolution and one which will undoubtedly bring enormous benefits. The roadmap for delivering improved website functionality for councils using LocalGov Drupal is starting to take shape and it will undoubtedly transform and improve service delivery and customer experience.
I don’t think it is unfair to say that council websites have remained much the same over the last ten years. The offering has been static for too long and that has to change as people’s expectations of modern websites has risen dramatically over this period. Design wise council websites appear to be much of a muchness, with a GOV.UK influenced design attempted by many. I would like to see this change, for council websites to incorporate far greater functionality and provide a better customer experience, but also to present a sense of place to better promote and celebrate the communities and residents that they serve.
If you spot any mistakes on the map or want to suggest any updates then please do get in contact.
Earlier this year I reviewed cookie consent on our public website. This was in advance of an audit of the council by the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office). I discovered that whilst we met most of the requirements, we fell short of full compliance. This came as a bit of a surprise and it spurred me into changing our approach in advance of the ICO audit. I wrote about what I did next on our Digital Services team blog.
I also checked what other councils were doing to try to find some best practice. I found a few good examples, but in general the experience I found wasn’t that great. So I decided to do some wider personal research into cookie consent on council websites.
The background to cookie consent
The initial guidance around cookie consent was rather vague and confusing. As a result websites met compliance but often failed to safeguard privacy.
Cookie guidelines have changed
The good news is that the guidance around cookie compliance is now less ambiguous. The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) has published guidelines on how website owners must comply. The key elements of the guidance are that website owners need to:
- Tell people the cookies are there
- Explain what the cookies are doing and why
- Get a user’s consent to store a cookie on their device
- Make sure users have the means to enable or disable non-essential cookies and make this easy to do
It is the latter guideline that is the real game changer with regards to cookie consent. Website owners now have to provide functionality to enable or disable non-essential cookies. Non-essential cookies have to be withheld on a website before a user has made a choice on whether to accept them.
Website owners also need to consider the user experience of cookie consent. They need to review the approach taken and add information written in plain English.
Reviewing cookie consent across local government
I reviewed cookie consent by checking every council website in the UK (408). I wanted to find best practice and review cookie consent across the sector. Here are the headline figures:
|Cookie guidance||Number of councils meeting the guidance
|Tell people the cookies are there||405||99.26%|
|Explain what the cookies are doing and why||400||98.04%|
|Get the person’s consent to store a cookie on their device||307||75.24%|
|Make sure users have the means to enable or disable non-essential cookies and make this easy to do||146||35.78%|
|Cookie guidance score (0-4)||Number of councils||Overall percentage|
Other user experience issues that I found included:
the cookie banner taking too long to load, often because other popups were also loading
poor colour contrast on cookie links on cookie banners, making them difficult to read
adding cookie details in a PDF rather than listing them on a page
providing insufficient detail about the cookies used on the website
Cookie compliance tips
To conclude here are my top ten cookie consent tips:
- revisit cookie compliance on your website – privacy matters
- read the advice from the ICO and check to see if your website meets PECR guidelines
- consider the user experience and make it easy for users
- consider ways to improve the prominence of cookie information
- test that cookie consent enables users to disable and enable cookies
- review the accessibility of your cookie compliance module
- banners need to be prominent and easy to read
- do not block access until a user accepts cookies
- do not emphasize accepting over rejecting cookies as this is a non-compliant approach.
I am happy to share individual results with local authorities. If this is of interest please contact me. I will aim to review cookie compliance in local government in a year’s time to find out what progress has been made.
The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No.2) Accessibility Regulations 2018, came into force on 23 September 2018. It aims to ensure that public sector websites and mobile apps are accessible to all users, especially those with disabilities. It specifies that public sector websites will need to meet accessibility standards and publish an accessibility statement.
In November 2018 the Government Digital Service (GDS) advised that they were working on a model accessibility statement for public sector website owners. This was due in the New Year but so far has not been published. Like other local authority digital managers I have already taken some action and added an accessibility statement to our website. Aware that it wasn’t that great I thought I’d spend a little time checking other council websites for any best practice about how to write accessibility statements. As I struggled to find anything meaningful I decided to carry out some personal research out of work hours and reviewed accessibility pages and accessibility statements for all councils in the UK (over 400 websites). I have always had a keen interest in finding out what other councils are doing and how their websites are developing, so this was also a good opportunity to update my knowledge.
My findings are outlined in this blog post. What I discovered was that very few if any councils have so far produced a meaningful accessibility statement. This wasn’t a great surprise as there hasn’t so far been any great encouragement for councils to do this. What did come as a surprise was that accessibility pages on council websites generally appear to be out-of-date or inadequate. I was surprised that web accessibility isn’t given greater prominence and attention on council websites. If councils are putting effort into improving the accessibility of their websites, then they are underselling the work that they are doing by not updating their accessibility pages or making them hard to find.
I hope that this blog post will encourage local authorities to review their accessibility pages. It is in no way meant to run down the hard work that councils are doing on web accessibility, but I do think that there is work to be done across the sector with regards to the range and usefulness of information provided. I will focus on the wider picture and will promote good practice, but I have no intention of naming and shaming specific councils. I don’t see that I have any right to do this or indeed think that there is any value in doing so.
How many websites have an accessibility page?
I checked each council website to try to find an accessibility page. I started on the homepage, where I expected to find a link to an accessibility page, either in the header or the footer.
If this failed I searched for accessibility on a council’s website. From this I found that 14% of council websites don’t appear to have an accessibility page. If they do, then it is pretty hidden and it is shouldn’t be.
I expected to find a link to an accessibility page on all council websites and was surprised when I couldn’t find one. A few of those without an accessibility page did present accessibility features, such as providing the ability to change font sizes and a colour scheme.
How easy is it to find the accessibility page?
It should be easy to find the accessibility page. The prime location is the first link in the header, but anywhere in the header or footer should make it easy to find. I certainly didn’t expect to search for the accessibility page or to find it in the help section.
I found that it was easy to find on 72% of local authority sites. I had to use the search to find the accessibility page on 11% of websites.
How many websites have an Accessibility Statement?
I didn’t expect to find many Accessibility Statements as full guidance for this hasn’t been issued by central government. I was surprised to find that 14% of councils have an Accessibility Statement. However, many of these can’t really be proper statements as they just contain basic details about accessibility features. I suspect some have just renamed their accessibility page as an Accessibility Statement. Nice try but I certainly wasn’t fooled!
One site proudly announces that the website doesn’t have a separate accessibility statement because they have tried to design the website to be as accessible and usable as possible for every user. That is entirely laudable but I’m sorry you now need to provide an Accessibility Statement!
Less than a handful of council websites currently contain all the key elements of an Accessibility Statement, which should:
- list any inaccessible parts of the website or app
- show how people with access needs can get alternatives to content that’s not accessible
- provide details on who to contact to report accessibility issues
- provide information on the enforcement procedure if people are not happy with the response
- be published in a fully accessible form
- follow a consistent format
- be updated annually
Let’s have a closer look at the first three of these requirements.
How many councils list inaccessible parts of a website or app?
At present only a small number of websites specifically list inaccessible parts of a website or app. Issues raised cover accessibility issues with specific content formats such as videos, PDFs and maps. A bigger issue relates to third party applications. Some councils demonstrate that they have reviewed their wider website estate and list accessibility issues on specific third-party websites or applications. Some take ownership of accessibility issues and state that they are working with suppliers to put things right. A few councils, however, state that they aren’t responsible for the accessibility of third-party websites and applications.
How many councils provide alternatives to content that’s not accessible?
Only 5% of councils currently provide alternatives to content that is known not to be accessible. Alternatives quoted include large print, Braille, audio cassette and CD. Alternatives used to be regularly offered in the days when print rather than online was more readily available.
The demand for alternative accessible formats can be significantly, though not completely, reduced if the information provided is:
- written in plain language
- as concise as possible
- designed to be as legible as possible
How many websites provide details on who to contact to report accessibility issues?
Forty per cent of councils provide details on who to contact to report accessibility issues. The contact point tends to either be a generic customer services or web team email. There are few examples of forms set up to capture specific feedback or issues.
Websites should actively encourage feedback on accessibility and there really is no excuse for not including details of who to contact.
Good examples of council accessibility pages and statements
These are the accessibility pages and statements that for me stood out from the rest:
- Blackpool Council – https://www.blackpool.gov.uk/Accessibility.aspx
- Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council – https://www.hinckley-bosworth.gov.uk/accessibility
There were others that impressed me in terms of approach and content, but they unfortunately hadn’t been updated for 2 or more years.
How can councils improve their web accessibility content
To conclude this blog post I’d like to share some thoughts about how councils can improve the range of information that they provide about web accessibility. I suspect that the catalyst to producing meaningful Accessibility Statements will happen when the GDS (Government Digital Service) issues a model statement.
Review your accessibility content
The best advice I can give to councils is simply to revisit their accessibility pages. Many are clearly out of date and have not been checked for years. It was quite easy to identify out of date content because of references to:
a) Out of date web browsers and operating systems
I found plenty of references to IE6, but more worryingly to IE4 (released in 1997) and Netscape Navigator (released in 1994). I also found a few references to Windows XP (support for this operating system ended in 2014). One council warns users that ‘Global internet corporations such as Google and Facebook are already taking measures to de-support Internet Explorer 6.’ 3 years ago this advice might have been useful, but not anymore.
b) Old versions of the WCAG guidelines
WCAG 2.1 should be referenced on accessibility pages as this is the current version of the guidelines. Many sites correctly mention it but I did find a significant number that quote version 2.0 (published in 2008) and even version 1.0 (published in 1999.)
c) Last published dates
The clearest indication of out of date content are last published dates. I found several dating back to 2015 and 2016.
Set a regular review date for accessibility content
Having reviewed your accessibility content make sure that you set a regular review date for it and update it annually. Include it in your website content review programme and treat it in the same way that you would any other content on your website.
Think beyond accessibility software
Many councils have invested in accessibility services such as Browsealoud and Readspeaker, or accessibility features provided by the web content management software used (Jadu is a good example here). These products help to improve the experience for users by enabling users change to change site settings (for example text size and colour contrast) enable text to speech and provide language translation.
These products are useful, though improvements to browser technology mean that many of these services can be accessed by users for every website that they visit, not just yours. People with accessibility needs can adjust their devices to access your website before they visit and so may not need to use the add on software that you provide.
Adding accessibility software doesn’t automatically make your website fully accessible. It can complement the work that you are doing to improve the accessibility of your website, but it doesn’t replace it. Many councils use their accessibility pages to promote the accessibility software that they use and offer no other useful information about how accessibility is being managed and improved on the website. My advice is to think beyond the accessibility software that you provide, detail your approach to accessibility, detail known issues and explain how users can get in contact to report issues.
Over the last three months I have been studying about all things digital through the ADBL Executive Diploma in Digital Business. The course includes a mix of webinars, online course material and reading. It is a shared experience with a large cohort of digital leaders from a wide range of countries. It has been an interesting course to date and one which has taken up lots of evenings and weekends with study.
The course is divided into 6 modules:
- Module 1: The digital imperative
- Module 2: Customer perspective and unlocking data
- Module 3: Innovation and agility
- Module 4: Digital channels to market
- Module 5: New ways of working
- Module 6: People, culture and transformation
I am currently working on Module 4: Digital channels to market and this blog post is part of the expected coursework.
Note: I completed and passed the diploma in 2016 with a distinction and received a ‘Most Innovative’ award at graduation. Since completing the course it has changed and details of an alternative course can be found here: https://www.avadolearning.com/businesses/digital/leaddigital
There are two things in my work life that I am passionate about – website accessibility and building effective council websites. So I thought I’d write a blog post that combines both of these passions, particularly as I believe that website accessibility is fundamental to building an effective website. This blog post is aimed at digital professionals in local government but what it covers is relevant to anybody who is building or has responsibility for managing a website.
What is web accessibility and why is it important?
Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with and can contribute to the Web. The Web is now a fundamental part of our daily lives and a key resource for education, government, commerce, health care and more. It is essential that the Web is accessible in order to provide equal access and equal opportunity to people with disabilities.
As more and more services become ‘digital by default’ we have a responsibility for making sure that they are designed to be accessible to all. If we don’t we will be excluding people with disabilities from accessing our services and making our websites inhospitable places to visit.
Web accessibility is also important from a business perspective. Websites that are accessible to people with disabilities will also perform better for all visitors. Research by SOCITM, the representative body for public service ICT professionals, found that the performance on a number of tasks on council websites was 41% better on the accessible sites than the rest. SOCITM have said that its research suggests “a significant relationship between the accessibility of the websites for people with disabilities and the more general usability of the websites for everyone.” Put simply, web accessibility matters and we need to take it seriously.
Why do council websites need to meet accessibility guidelines?
Nobody should be excluded from accessing services online. To do so would represent a breach of the Equality Act 2010.
All government websites, whether built for central or local government, need to meet or exceed level AA of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. These guidelines explain how to make websites accessible for people with disabilities.
How accessible are council websites?
The accessibility of council websites across the UK currently leaves a lot to be desired. In 2015 the Digital Accessibility Centre (DAC) carried out a review into the accessibility of 407 council websites. Overall, 176 councils (43%) were rated by the DAC as satisfactory, but only three sites out of this total were rated very good. Seven sites (2%) were rated inaccessible and another 225 sites (55%) were rated poor.
The results of the review make it clear that in general local authorities need to take web accessibility more seriously. Over half of the councils in the UK are potentially failing to meet legal requirements but perhaps more importantly they are failing to make their websites accessible for their respective disabled residents.
What can councils do to make their websites accessible?
The starting point is for councils to acknowledge that web accessibility is an essential requirement and one that needs ongoing attention. To help councils to meet this challenge I have identified ten tips for designing an accessible council website:
Understand the difficulties experienced by disabled web users
The only true way to understand web accessibility is to experience some of the issues that disabled users have to endure on a day to day basis. My first experience of this was on a visit to the RNIB where a blind web user demonstrated how he used a screen reader to visit websites. I was shocked at just how frustrating this can be on a poorly developed website and amazed at the patience that the web user showed as thousands of web links were read out to him at lightning speed. This experience ignited my passion for getting web accessibility right.
There are a number of ways that you can better understand the difficulties experienced by disabled web users. One of the best ways is to get in contact with local disability groups and ask to meet up with members to discuss their web accessibility experiences and challenges. An alternative is to contact organisations that provide web accessibility services, such as the Shaw Trust, the Digital Accessibility Centre and the RNIB. These organisations can provide help and advice, training and web testing services.
Raise awareness of accessibility amongst internal audiences and particularly to senior managers
Raising awareness of web accessibility throughout the council will help to reduce issues arising and ensure buy in from senior managers. It will help, for example, to ensure that content is provided in accessible formats and help to avoid inappropriate purchases of inaccessible third party web applications.
One way to raise awareness is to develop a simple online training session that all staff can access to improve their understanding of web accessibility. Another way is to brief procurement staff to make sure that web accessibility issues are considered when purchasing any new web based application. Web managers also should devote time to briefing senior managers and helping them to appreciate the business benefits of tackling web accessibility.
Design in accessibility at the beginning of a website
It is possible to fix accessibility issues on existing websites, but this can be a long and arduous task, particularly if a council is using proprietary software such as a web content management system. My advice is to carry out a full review of web accessibility and determine whether it is feasible to resolve major issues. If it is then put together a programme of work to fix accessibility issues and work meticulously and patiently through this, testing as you go along to assess your progress. If it isn’t feasible to retro fix web accessibility issues then consider carrying out a website redevelopment. Failure to meet web compliance can help to build a business case for website redevelopment particularly as there is a legal requirement to meet web accessibility standards.
If you are using external suppliers to assist with your redevelopment then make sure that you check their accessibility credentials before employing them. Most web design and development agencies will claim to have an understanding of web accessibility, but make sure that you challenge this thoroughly during the procurement phase. Beware suppliers who offer to do the minimum needed to meet accessibility standards or suggest that this can be sorted out by simply plumbing in some external web accessibility services.
Build accessibility into criteria for procurement
As mentioned above procurement is a key phase in your web accessibility journey. Choosing the right supplier is critical otherwise you may design in accessibility issues rather than avoiding them. Make meeting WAI AA accessibility compliance a key requirement but don’t stop there. Ask suppliers to provide examples of websites that they have built to demonstrate how they have tackled web accessibility – and then test those websites to confirm that they are compliant. Beware suppliers who simply claim that web accessibility issues have been introduced by local authorities after the website build. There will certainly be issues introduced after the build has been completed, but it should be fairly easy to spot issues that suppliers themselves have built into website templates.
Make accessibility a key responsibility of all members of your web team
Web accessibility is more than just a set of technical issues, so don’t confine responsibility for it to the technical member(s) of the team. Accessibility issues can be added in through content and design, so make sure that every member of your web team fully understands web accessibility. Invest in training where you can and if you are the manager make sure that you inspire your team to keep their knowledge up to date and become champions of web accessibility. Recruit people who have an appreciation of and passion for accessibility and make sure that the responsibilities for it are clearly referenced in their job descriptions.
Select a range of automated tools to assist with reviewing accessibility
There are a wide range of tools to use to help you to assess and manage web accessibility. Many of these are free and they will help to save you a great deal of time. Council websites are generally large websites containing several hundred pages (if not thousands in some cases), so manual checking really isn’t an option. Automated testing will help to identify issues that occur across the whole website or just on specific page types. Free examples include Wave, AChecker and Cynthia Says and paid for examples include Powermapper and AccessIN.
There are also a range of paid for web accessibility services that are available which can automatically alert you to issues as they occur. The value of these services is that they help you to fix issues in a timely way. Examples include Sitemorse and Siteimprove.
Complement automated testing with real life accessibility testing by disabled web users
Automated testing is useful but it can never be 100% accurate and it may not always reveal issues that can affect disabled users. So I would always recommend that you complement automated testing with real life testing by disabled users. Organisations such as the Shaw Trust, DAC and RNIB provide comprehensive testing services that cut across a wide range of disabilities, using a variety of assistive web technologies. If you can’t afford paid for testing then I would recommend approaching local disability groups whose members may well be more than happy to volunteer their help.
Consider the accessibility of your third party web applications
Sorting out web accessibility on the council’s website is important but it is not the end of the story. Most council websites use a wide range of third party web applications to support services such as planning, payments, bookings and mapping. These applications also need to meet web accessibility guidelines otherwise disabled users will fail to complete the task(s) that they have set out to complete when visiting your website.
Third party website applications pose a major challenge for local authorities as resolving issues is in the hands of suppliers. One way to reduce these issues is to build accessibility into the criteria for procurement. This will help when purchasing new external services but not help with existing suppliers unless contracts are periodically reviewed and accessibility can be set as criteria for renewal.
Build accessibility checks into the publishing process
Once your new site is live you will need to actively build in accessibility checking into the publishing process. It is very easy to import in accessibility issues through content, either by importing spurious code or by failing to make content accessible. Importing Microsoft Word content and failing to tag PDF documents are responsible for many of the web accessibility issues arising from content.
Where possible I would advise that you build accessibility checks into the publishing process to ensure that issues are considered and tested before they go live. This can be done manually and assisted by the use of checklists to remind web content authors of what to consider. A good example of a checklist is Userium.
I would also recommend using content standards to reinforce best practice and help to avoid accessibility issues. For example check out the LocalGov Digital Content Standards.
Carry out regular web accessibility testing
My final tip is to carry out regular testing of your council website. Testing should be considered an ongoing task and requirement to prevent major accessibility issues from occurring. Failing to complete regular testing is a key reason for the poor state of web accessibility across local authorities. Testing can often be seen as a one off task, done at the start of a new website and then forgotten about until the next website redevelopment. The challenge is to keep the momentum going and not to lose sight of web accessibility.
Using external website accreditation services (such as provided by the Shaw Trust, DAC and RNIB) can certainly help to keep your focus on this challenge. But beware of treating website accreditation like an annual car MOT. If issues arise they need to be dealt with in a timely way and not left until the next yearly inspection.
I hope that these tips will encourage you to take a fresh look at the web accessibility of your council website. If you have any further tips to contribute please add your comments below. I’d be particularly interested to hear about how you deal with web accessibility issues or if you have any other suggestions for useful web accessibility tools or testing techniques.
For me one of the biggest mistakes that a website can make is to present out-of-date information. The credibility of a website can be affected by presenting old information. For a council website old information can mean misinformation about services which is unforgivable. In this article we’ll review the importance of currency and consider some tips keeping your website up-to-date.
Lets explore some examples of out-of-date information. Here are some simple errors which may suggest that a site is out-of-date:
News stories should help to demonstrate that a website is current by presenting up-to-date news items. Unfortunately this is not always the case, such as the council promoting a awareness day on 24th March which actually took place on 18th March. I also found a number of errors on news stories, such as one claiming to be about the start of British Summer Time but in fact linking to a story on Fire kills. Errors like this are very visible on a homepage and suggest that content updates are not being checked.
One of the most telling signs that a site isn’t regularly updated is an out of date copyright year. I found a number of examples where councils were displaying copyright notices dated 2012 and 2013.
GOV.UK went live in 2012, but several council websites still publicise Directgov via a logo or text. I found one website which presented the Directgov with a link to their own homepage. One website presented GOV.UK correctly with a correct link, but had failed to update the alt text from ‘Directgov’. I also found council sites presenting GOV.UK with http rather than https. This is not a major issue as the site re-directs, but it suggests a lack of attention.
Documents can be a major source of out-of-date information. Keeping web page content current but forgetting to review document based information is quite common. Part of the reason for this is that council websites can contain many thousands of documents which can pose significant review issues. Documents often can’t be easily updated as they present information in a fixed format. It just isn’t feasible to constantly update long documents and errors must often be expected. Broken links can frequently be found in documents and worse still they can present inaccurate information. We will look at documents in more detail in a future article as they present a wide range of challenges.
Five years ago I very much doubt if we would have considered an open source web content management system (CMS). About a year and a half ago that all changed as we looked to find a replacement for our existing proprietary CMS, feeling that the time had come to find an alternative which would give us the flexibility to develop and design websites ourselves. We chose to trial the use of Drupal, an open source platform, built, used, and supported by an active and diverse community of people around the world.
When we started our journey with Drupal we had just achieved fours stars in the SOCITM Better Connected Review. So why did we consider this fundamental change at this time? Well, we wanted the freedom to develop and change our website to meet ever changing requirements and public expectations. The biggest driver initially was to allow us to develop a fully responsive website to meet our residents ever increasing need for mobile access. We developed a separate mobile site, which partly meets the demand – http://m.bracknell-forest.gov.uk/home but we now really to provide a single website which can be accessed from any given device.
Mobile usage of the Bracknell Forest Council website has been increasing to a point where mobile and desktop use is greater month on month than desktop use. The pie chart shows the annual split between mobile, tablet and desktop usage. Over 50% of people now choose not to use a desktop PC or laptop to access our public website. In some months the split has been even greater and I anticipate that this will continue to grow.
Developing a responsive website needs to go beyond building websites that adapt to all screen sizes. In a recent article Dan Gardner and Mike Treff talked of the need to consider developing a ‘responsive philosophy’ as today ‘users expect online experiences that not only respond to what device they’re using, but also their location, time of day, what they’ve already read and events happening in real time’. (see http://m.fastcodesign.com/3036091/the-next-big-thing-in-responsive-design). This concept throws up all sorts of opportunities which we’d like to explore further, but equally a wide range of constraints, particularly relating to the flexibility of a CMS to meet these new expectations.
Changing the presentation of a website to meet changing requirements and needs cannot always be easily sorted in CMS which will generally use a limited number of fixed templates. Over the last few years design and usability wisdom has suggested that websites uniformly present content simply and consistently – to try to make the experience simpler and more intuitive. I fully subscribe to this view, but I also think that it can make the experience a little dull and repetitive. Government websites need to focus on simplicity and pare down unnecessary navigation and design to encourage users not only to view the content that they present but to engage and transact.
But does one size fit all in terms of design in government websites? I am starting to have my doubts about this. So I am currently working on a different approach which offers more flexibility in terms of design, but one which keeps the customer as the main focus and fully considers usability. Our new council website will be designed to provide a consistent journey, but include some flexibility on presentation to add visual interest and help to sell those services that need to be actively marketed (such as Leisure).