Presentation on the proposed new Council Website (Agenda Item 1)
To receive a presentation by Dominic Chessum, Marketing and Communications Officer.
Mr S. Askew introduced this item, explaining that the proposed new Council website project had already been approved by Cabinet. However, as this was a key and forward-facing initiative, it was felt important to keep the Council fully updated.
The Marketing and Communications Officer (MCO) then gave a presentation covering the proposed new website and social media links. Key points included:
- An increased general expectation that comprehensive information, as well as bill payment, document submission etc, could be accessed, and dealt with, via websites.
- A growing audience in terms of web access, with the government aiming to have at least 90% of the population on line by 2015.
- Potentially very large savings by comparison with face-to-face consultations (which in rural Councils cost about £13.00 on each occasion, against a rate of £0.27 for most web contacts).
- Once up and running, if 3,000 people could be diverted from face-to-face dealings to using the full potential of the website, then about £40,000 could be saved – and the project would have paid for itself.
- It was important, therefore, for the Council to have an up-to-date, reliable and user-friendly website.
- An acknowledgement that the Council’s current website was deemed confusing – not least as it had evolved to meet various, often out-dated, government guidelines.
The Cabinet had therefore recommended that the website be redeveloped from scratch. The project team were in the last stages of appointing a web developer and were working to a tight timetable. They had also undertaken some research via surveys issued with Council Tax bills and in Breckland Voice, with over 370 responses having been received over 3 weeks.
The new website would involve a ‘data cleanse’ to ensure that all information was current and reflected the new governance structure. Some new software would also be purchased to increase accessibility – e.g. for those needing specialist versions of text.
The proposed basic design was shown to Members. The MCO drew attention to various features, including:
· A new box system to highlight key information on each page.
· A primary ‘picture’ box on the front landing page, where an image could be changed from a topical or general Breckland view, to a space which could be utilised for urgent information (e.g. in consultation with the Emergency Planning Team).
· The site would enable comprehensive searches using key internal links, but it would also have links to key social networking sites (see below).
· In terms of governance, every department would have two team members responsible for maintaining their team’s page(s) and, alongside running maintenance, there would be an annual update procedure.
· The Marketing & Communications team would be responsible for checking each page before it went ‘live’.
The MCO then spoke about various forms of social media, which were also growing in importance as powerful tools. They were an alternative means of communication, enabling speedy two-way dialogue. The Council could therefore engage directly with members of the community, by answering queries/responding to requests, but also by gathering information from specialists, local communities etc., as appropriate.
Some examples were shown to illustrate the potential of this, and how current local and national MPs, as well as Councillors and many others, were already using social media.
Other points the MCO made included:
- There was potential for suitable consultation and cooperation with local businesses and community groups, etc, as well as the opportunity for individual Councillors to be trained so that they could personally engage with social media if they wanted to.
- It was clear that from the numerous social network platforms available, that the Council would need to whittle these down to some key and relevant ones which would best suit its needs.
- Following on from this, given the nature, speed and scope of social media applications, it would be impractical for content to be monitored manually. The Council would therefore need to develop suitable governance and monitoring policies. To this end, it was proposed to employ a specialist social media monitoring tool. The one in mind was currently used by many industries and other government institutions.
- Funding (about £35,000) had already been set aside in the budget for redevelopment of the current website. It was proposed that this project be led by the Marketing & Communications team, using internal expertise (including IT support), as far as possible.
- The proposal was for the external consultant to be selected soon, followed by development of an overall governance structure and individual departmental pages, along with relevant data cleansing, research and testing etc. The aim was to launch the new website by the end of August 2010.
- As the community was to be the focus of the new website, customer satisfaction was acknowledged to be of key importance. It was therefore proposed that there should be a public ‘test panel’ to give feedback on pages as they were developed. This panel would then be contacted again immediately prior to the system going live.
Members spoke in favour of the proposals, which were largely felt to be positive and forward-thinking. However, a few points and concerns were raised, as follows.
- Possible misuse of the website in the lead-up to future elections: would adequate safeguards be in place to monitor content with respect to political messages, etc.?
The Chief Executive responded to this concern by saying that in terms of social networking, comments made by others were outside the Council’s control. With regard to the website, he acknowledged that, as with many new systems, there would no doubt be a need to tweak and monitor as the site evolved.
However, he stressed that the basic principles of ‘purdah’ in the immediate approach to any election would remain in force at the Council.
- The possibility of the Council raising money by allowing adverts on some of its pages. As a government website, it could be viewed as a premium site, thereby offering real potential for earning income.
The MCO acknowledged that this was something which could be considered – along similar lines to the advertising allowed in Breckland Voice. The Web Officer added that there was no technical problem with incorporating advertisement banners on the Council’s website.
- Some parts of Breckland still had poor reception and/or some users did not have access to Broadband.
The MCO confirmed that whilst reception was out of the Council’s hands, the website could be adapted to enable users to create their own versions, which could be simplified to just enable text - thus reducing the download time/space required.
- Another Member was concerned that many, especially from the older generation, might feel less confident about using the website and prefer face-to-face contact, or to speak directly over the telephone.
It was agreed that the new site should be as user-friendly and clear as possible, drawing on relevant examples from other sites in terms of layout, tools available to help maximise use, etc. However, other forms of contact would, of course, remain available.