There’s a new generation of council websites emerging at the moment – with some really interesting social media integration too.
The trend was started by the launch of Redbridge i – a groundbreaker among council sites.
I particularly like their mapping tool which shows how geo-data can be used well to show council services in a geographical context. However beyond that and its web 2.0 look and feel I do find the site a bit lacking in social functionality – for example I couldn’t find an RSS feed and there’s not a great deal of integration with social media sites.
I also have my doubts about the value of the widget-ey homepage, slick as its implementation is. That kind of customisation it allows only seems to have value for sites that people come back to regularly – and to date I’m not sure council sites are that sticky (yet).
I think what’s important here is that the website is aggregating real social media activity that the council is already delivering on other sites. The principle behind this is sound: engage with people where they are already, rather than trying to get them to engage “on your turf” on the council site.
This week sees the launch of the new site from Cheltenham Borough Council. As well as boasting a nice, clean look and feel, the site has tight integration with YouTube and Flickr. However there’s not a lot of two-way interaction going on other than on those YouTube and Flickr pages.
Maybe that’s the next phase of development for sites like this – moving beyond sites that replicate the broadcast model that dominates many councils’ offline communications is an important step for local government websites.
Generating an environment for residents to interact online with their councils will generate more engagement with the democratic process and council work in general – but it needs truly interactive platforms, a supportive culture within the council and a drive from officers and members to create genuinely two-way conversations.