SOCITM (Society of Information Technology Management)
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Better Connected Report 2009

Better connected report calls on councils to adopt a new strategic approach to ‘self-service’ in response to the economic crisis - and sets out blueprint for future website management

Better connected report calls on councils to adopt a new strategic approach to ‘self-service’ in response to the economic crisis - and sets out blueprint for future website management

 Other key points in the report:

 
    * Eight sites achieve top (excellent) rating in the 2009 survey compared with five in 2008: they are: Allerdale BC, Barking & Dagenham, Bristol City, East Sussex CC, North-East Derbyshire DC, Salford City, South Tyneside MBC and Surrey CC

     * 191 sites rated as transactional, up from 165 in 2008. This year the percentage of transactional sites has reached 45% compared with 35% in 2008.

     * 76 non-local authority sites have been assessed for the report including 20 central government departments: standards are generally lower than for local authorities, although 24 transactional sites have been found

     * This year Better connected did not review the 44 sites of councils in shire county areas of England that are due to close down on 31 March 2009, nor did it look at the 9 sites of councils that will be created on 1 April 2009

     * 25% of council sites meet the new Better connected standard of ‘satisfactory accessibility’ (as rated by the RNIB and with no more than two failures against Level A of WCAG 1.0). This result is similar to last year’s estimation of ‘basically accessible site in A world denied : A supplement for Better connected 2008 on website accessibility)
 

   * An average of 23% of council website visitors in December 2008 did not find what they were looking for: South Oxfordshire DC has the lowest failure rate (12%) and the highest net satisfaction rate (62%). Data is based on 91 councils using the Website take-up service.
 

 * 42% of all councils replied in two working days to Better connected's e-mail test, compared with 56% in 2008 and 40% in 2007.

 
   * 59% of council answerphone messages still fail to refer callers to their websites, compared with 68% in 2008

     * Figures from Ipsos MORI compiled for the report show that 73% of adults now have access to the internet, a significant jump since the same time last year (66%). In some regions access is as high as 81%. 

    * Camden, Tameside MBC, Bracknell Forest, Lancashire CC, and South Cambridgeshire DC are named as best performers on take-up of their website by local residents.
 
    * The degree of Web 2.0 activity on council websites has been assessed (eg incidence of forums, blogs, online polls, engagement with social networking services like Facebook and Twitter). External evidence of web 2.0 activity by councils has not been examined.
 
    * Socitm Insight has launched a Website improvement and usage community to provide discussion platform for Better connected and related website issues

 The 2009 Better connected report (published March 2) calls on local authorities to adopt a new strategic approach to ‘self-service’ as part of their response to the economic crisis - and sets out a blueprint for future website management to help them achieve this goal.
 
Better connected 2009, which is Socitm’s eleventh annual survey of local authority websites, says that the current crisis should be a call to action for those not yet committed to self-service, a low-cost means to meet growing demand for council information and services at a time resources are unlikely to increase.
 
The report presents evidence showing that web is already the most used channel for accessing council services, and yet between 12% and 31% of web enquiries end in failure, leading to costly ‘avoidable contacts’ being generated for other, more expensive-to-serve channels like the phone.  This is against a background of significantly rising internet usage (a jump to 73% of all adults is reported) and some evidence at least of a narrowing gap in the digital divide.

 In other results published in the report, eight councils in 2009 have achieved the full E (excellent) site ranking. The E sites are: Allerdale BC (new), Barking & Dagenham (also in 2007), Bristol City (new), East Sussex CC (also 2008), North East Derbyshire DC (new), Salford City (also 2008), South Tyneside MBC (new) and Surrey CC (new).

 A further 18 sites failed ‘E’ status by just one factor — accessibility in 11 cases and use of location in 4 cases.
 

The total number of transactional sites has increased to 191 compared with 165 in 2008. Overall the survey shows 55% of sites are ‘Standard’, 43% are ‘Transactional’ and 2% are ‘Excellent’.

The 2009 review involved a 116-question survey carried by a team of reviewers between 3 November and 12 December 2008, and an additional 75 sites for Socitm Insight subscribers from other parts of the public sector were also assessed.  36 of the questions were around five ‘scenarios’ based on typical website user needs.  These were: a teacher looking to move to a new job; a company applying for planning permission; a single parent on a low income; enquiries from small businesses; a resident concerned about crime and community safety

As part of this year’s survey, and in order to gauge improvement over several years, the ability of council websites to answer a set of questions also put in the 2004 survey was tested. 42% of the questions put were answered this year compared with only 20% in 2004 – a clear improvement, but also an indication there is still much to do.

 
Six additional surveys were carried out by individual members of the team outside the main survey:

  • Response to an e-mail request
  • Web 2.0 features
  • News value about winter weather
  • Access from mobile devices
  • Registration for online services
  • Phone contact details

This research has been supplemented by a further six other separate surveys, using partner organisations, covering:

  •      Benchmarking of various technical measures of performance – all sites (SiteMorse)
  • Website accessibility – all sites (RNIB)
  • Website readability - 13 sites (The Writer)
  • Access to the internet (Ipsos MORI)
  • Usage of websites – all websites (Hitwise)
  • Visitor feedback on 30 websites (Govmetric)


Based on performance in the main survey, the Better connected team has identified its ‘Top Twenty’ local authority sites in 2009.  They are:

  •  Allerdale BC (New)
  • Barking & Dagenham
  • Brent (Last in 2007)
  • Bristol City (Last in 2000)
  • East Sussex CC
  • Haringey (New)
  • Kirklees MBC
  • Lewisham (Last in 2002)
  • Lincoln City (New)
  • North East Derbyshire DC (New)
  • Salford City
  • South Derbyshire DC (New)
  • South Norfolk DC (Last in 2007)
  • South Oxfordshire DC (New)
  • South Tyneside MBC (Last in 2005)
  • Surrey CC (Last in 2007)
  • Surrey Heath BC
  • Tandridge DC (New)
  • Walsall MBC (New)
  • RB of Windsor & Maidenhead (Last in 2002)

Using a shorter questionnaire based on the local authority survey, the research also investigated 76 websites from some other organisations that subscribe to Socitm Insight, including six passenger transport executives (PTEs); nine fire and eight police services; eleven RSLs; twenty central government departments; five devolved administrations; five central government agencies; six regional government organisations and six others (eg National Health Service, voluntary sector). 24 of these sites were rated transactional.

Commenting on the findings of Better connected 2009, Martin Greenwood, programme manager for Socitm Insight and author of the report, said: ‘Given the current economic crisis, the time has surely come for major investment in self-service, but in the knowledge that, if the online services does not work, an ‘avoidable contact’ will have been created. Council website managers need to become obsessive about making online journeys especially the ‘top tasks’, really work. And there needs to be a much more ruthless approach to content, focused on content customers want, as opposed to the content councils think they should have.


Writing in the report foreword, web guru Gerry McGovern gives council web teams this advice: ‘…. .give citizens back time. ….If you save time for citizens you will save money for your council. Don’t manage the technology or content. Instead, manage the top tasks of your citizens, and relentlessly focus on saving time and increasing simplicity.’


Better connected 2009 will be available to Socitm Insight subscribers from 2 March 2009. The Main Report will be available as a printed report and also as an electronic version. An expanded version of all the results (the Full Results Report) will also be available from 9 March 2009, but only as an electronic version.


Spreadsheets available to subscribers include:

 * A summary of the results of the main survey, together with the supporting surveys (ie responses to sample e-mail, registration facilities, mobile devices and deep-linking from Google).

 * An index of council references contains all references to examples of good practice, entries in the lists of top sites etc, so that subscribers have a quick reference to their council

 * A summary of the accessibility results brings together all the detailed information about the accessibility assessments produced from the three stages of the testing process, using the automated testing software and RNIB expertise, and highlighting those who have passed or failed the Level A and Level AA standards (and the reasons why).

 These items will be available to Socitm Insight subscribers from the Socitm website from March 2.  Non-subscribers will be able to buy a printed version of the Main Report at a cost of £415 (£395 for Socitm members whose organisations do not subscribe).  It can be ordered from www.socitm.gov.uk


Further information

Further information about Better connected 2009 and press copies of the report in pdf format are available on request.

Vicky Sargent or Rob Adams,
Socitm Press Office
Tel: 07726 601 139 
email: vicky.sargent@socitm.gov.uk or rob.adams@socitm.gov.uk                


Martin Greenwood,
Programme Manager, Socitm Insight
Tel: 01926 498703 or 07967 383755  e-mail: martin.greenwood@socitm.gov.uk

Notes for Editors

In collaboration with the Improvement & Development Agency (IDeA) Socitm Insight has set up an online community space within the IDeA Communities of Practice. Called the Web improvement and usage community, the space will enable networking and the sharing of ideas and best practice around all aspects of website development, content and take-up. Discussion around Better connected will launch the space, but the facility will be useful and relevant to anyone interested in the role of the web in the delivery of effective, responsive, value-for-money public services. Registration is at www.communities@idea.gov.uk.

Additional information

1 How the research was done

This year’s Better connected survey was carried out between 3 November and 12 December 2008. As in previous years, a team of reviewers carried out a structured survey with 116 questions for local authority websites. Using a structured questionnaire, the team explored the ability of websites to respond to the needs of a range of typical local authority customers, and to test performance in the areas of interactive applications; currency of information; usability; and responsiveness to e-mail.

2 Process for identifying transactional and excellent websites

The process has two stages:

Stage 1 Assessment of transactional sites

Stage 2 Assessment of excellent sites

The process of assessing transactional sites is a mixture of quantitative evidence, using as in previous years thresholds of questions answered in our survey and ratings of scenarios and themes assessed in the survey, and qualitative evidence, using the judgement of the Better connected team of twelve reviewers.  The main survey carried out by reviewers is the only source of evidence.

The process of assessing excellent sites is based entirely on objective evidence applied on transactional sites that achieve defined standards on nine criteria considered essential. The main survey is supplemented by the results of the accessibility assessments by the RNIB.

3 Essential criteria that must be met to achieve an excellent rating

Usefulness of content

Information - Do people find answers to their questions

Currency - Can people rely on the site being up to date

Links - Are people referred to another organisation if the council does not have the information?

Transactions - Can people transact business with the council?

Usability

Use of A to Z - Can people find their way easily to a ist specific topic?

Use of search engine - Does a specific word or phrase generally point people to the information they want?

Use of location - Can people find information easily by using a map or postcode (or other similar)?

Navigation - Can people rely on a clear and consistent style in finding their way around?

Accessibility Can people use the site if they have a disability?

4 Percentage of sites achieving the standard on Better connected essential criteria

Criteria                        %sites            comparison   achieving         with 2008 standard

Usefulness of content

Information                   45%                 44%                 Minor improvement

Currency                      64%                 61%                 Minor improvement

Links elsewhere            35%                 31%                 Improvement

News value                   27%                 29%                 No change

Transactions                43%                 55%                 Little change (more difficult test this                                                                                          year) 

E-mail                          39%                 40%                 Little change

Participation                 47%                 47%                 No change

 
Usability

Ease of finding                                      N/a                   Not available

Use of A to Z                59%                 49%                 Improvement

Use of search engine    59%                 47%                 Significant improvement

Use of location              25%                 22%                 Little change

Navigation                    61%                 59%                 Little change

Design of transactions  n/a                   N/a                   Not available

Accessibility                 25%                 n/a                   Little change

Readability                   n/a                   N/a                   Not available

Resilience                    6%                   6%                   Improvement (on low base)

 
5 Percentage of transactional sites within each type of council:

London boroughs                    76%

Shire counties                           67%

Metropolitan districts                 67%

English unitaries                       60%

Scottish unitaries                      38%

Shire districts                             40%

Welsh unitaries              14%

Northern Ireland districts 4%

6  Performance of other public sector websites

Using a shorter questionnaire based on the local authority survey, the research also investigated websites from 76 other organisations that subscribe to Socitm Insight

    * Six passenger transport executives (PTEs)
    * Nine fire services
    * Eight police services
    * Eleven registered social landlords (RSLs)
    * Twenty central government departments (inc all those represented on the CIO Council)
    * Five devolved administrations
    * Five central government agencies
    * Six regional government organisations
    * Six other organisations (eg National Health Service, voluntary sector)

In general, most local government websites seem very good in comparison, but the team identified 24 websites that are transactional according to Better connected’s definition.

7  Additional testing and surveys in 2009 (done by the BC team unless specified)

    * Response to an e-mail request
    * Web 2.0 features
    * News value about winter weather
    * Access from mobile devices
    * Registration for online services
    * Phone contact details
    * Benchmarking of various technical measures of performance – all sites (SiteMorse)
    * Website accessibility – all sites (RNIB)
    * Website readability - 13 sites (The Writer)
    * Access to the internet (Ipsos MORI)
    * Usage of websites – all websites (Hitwise)
    * Visitor feedback on 30 websites (Govmetric)

8  The e-mail test

Dear Sir\Madam

I am a blind person and am having trouble in using your website. How can you help me access your services?  I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours

Polly Gene

9  Scenarios tested

   1. Teacher looking to move to new job
   2. Company applying for planning permission
   3. Single parent on a low income
   4. Enquiries from small businesses
   5. Resident concerned about crime and community safety

10 Report contents summary

Section 1 Introduction: key features of the survey, including its purpose, the process followed, the ranking system and the ‘useful, usable and used’ framework used for assessment.
 
Section 2 National policies and direction: an overview of national policies, initiatives and legislation that will have a strategic impact on the development of websites in the next three to five years.

Section 3 Overview of this year’s results: the national picture in terms of overall rankings (ie excellent and transactional sites). This is followed by the Better connected Top 20, analysis by types of council, improvement trends and an examination of some favourite sites.

Section 4 This year’s results — useful content: detailed analysis of the results, focusing firstly on content. There are reports on five scenarios of typical visitors searching for information content, and then an examination of other aspects of content such as currency of information, use of links, provision of services, response to e-mail and the practice of participation.

Section 5 This year’s results — usability: This covers ease of finding, use of navigational aids such as A to Z lists, search engines and locational data, general navigation, accessibility, readability and, finally, technical resilience. All these points contribute to the usability of a local authority website.

Section 6 This year’s results — usage: Switching from the product to the customer, the analysis is about different aspects of the demand side, highlighting trends in take-up and visitor feedback. The latest information is provided about internet access, visitor usage, satisfaction and behaviour, culminating with advice about better marketing.

Section 7 Moving forwards: how well councils have improved the content of their sites. Using important findings from some of the supporting surveys, suggestions are made about what councils might do in applying new technology to make sites more usable and better used.

Section 8 A new strategic approach: the financial crisis puts the spotlight on self-service. Here, we provide a blueprint for the way in which public sector websites should respond to this challenge over the next five years.

Section 9 Conclusions

11 A note on collaborators in Better connected 2008

Socitm would like to thank the following organisations for their contributions to this report.

Their advice has helped to add balance with a number of different perspectives:

● GovMetric (www.govmetric.co.uk)

● Hitwise UK (www.hitwise.co.uk)

● Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute (www.ipsos-mori.com)

● Royal National Institute of Blind People (www.rnib.org.uk)

● SiteMorseTM plc (www.sitemorse.com)

● Tangent Direct (www.tangentdirect.co.uk)

● The Writer (www.thewriter.co.uk)

PDNS: Mandatory Active Cyber Defence for Public Sector Networks. Latest Guide