Next generation council websites?

SimonGeneral8 Comments

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.

redbridge screengrab

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).

Barnet Council has also recently relaunched its site at – some really strong integration with active social media tools here including Twitter, Flickr and YouTube.

barnet screengrab

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.

cheltenham screenshot

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.

8 Comments on “Next generation council websites?”

  1. I met some of the Redbridge folk at a course we ran last year. It’s well worth mentioning that the site was developed and designed internally, rather than outsourced to an agency. I was quite stunned by this. The widgets approach will work well for people used to iGoogle, etc. but not necessarily for ‘my mum’. Intelligent adaptation based on user behaviour would be the way forward, I guess.

    Look forward to checking out Barnet and Cheltenham.

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  3. Simon – it was great meeting you the other day. I can see our discussion gave you some inspirations 😉 This is a great post on local council websites and it really touched base on what we were discussing. Funny to see Dave Briggs write on his blog today exactly what we mentioned during our conversation about local councils having a ‘google search’ type website. Thanks for writing this post, certainly helps me to retrace the topics we talked about since there was no recording! 😉

  4. Isn’t it spelt Redbridge not Redbridgei? That’s a pretty big mistake to miss.

    The header search box on Barnet Online doesn’t work. I can’t delete the “Please enter your search” text and I didn’t see why not at a glance. Bizarrely, I can click search and then edit the box in the page body to do the search I want. Anyone else seeing this behaviour? May be at fault, but these things should be tested to make sure they work without scripts.

  5. @Ian – didn’t know that re internal development. I suspect often the barrier to change is less the technical ability of in-house developers than the strategy put in place for the site itself by whoever’s responsible for it.

    @Caroline – thanks for the kind words. Interactive and accessible are indeed important!

    @Liz – good to meet you too. I think Dave and I have very similar thoughts on some aspects of council sites

    @MJ Ray – seems to work ok for me in Firefox, but I’m not technical expert. But you’re right that council sites need to be tested to be functional for as wide a range of users as possible.

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