Social care reforms ‘at risk’ from poor websites

Negative user feedback on council websites places a “major question mark” over local authorities’ ability to deliver new social care reforms, according to Socitm, the representative body for public sector ICT professionals.

Socitm recently asked 100 “mystery shoppers” to carry out social care tasks on 18 council websites.

While one task – applying for a blue badge – received satisfactory to very good ratings, two others – finding out about respite care or finding equipment for the elderly – received only a poor to satisfactory assessment.

The Socitm briefing said: “Every council in the country with social work responsibilities should read about the systemic problems uncovered by this research, which places a major question mark on local authorities’ ability to deliver the reforms.”

The equipment for the elderly task was only rated by 12% of all testers as very good and the respite care test only rated by 8% as very good.

These results are made starker by the fact that the 18 councils tested were all in the upper quartile of websites ranked by Socitm’s Better connected 2014.

This indicates “that these are good corporate websites for other services and suggesting that those not tested are unlikely to do any better for social care”, according to Socitm.

Among the issues identified relating to online social care were poor content, content not found, Google issues (eg pointing to the wrong pages on the right site, or even to the wrong site altogether), poor third party websites, poor databases and overuse of images.

Socitm said: “This catalogue of issues which applies to all 18 councils tested comes from a mixture of content authors who have not been properly trained and a management process that relies on a large number of people doing it as a part-time activity.”

According to the report, organisations can improve their performance by appointing someone with specific responsibility for the use experience on council websites.

“Becoming professional in understanding how to get the online user experience right is a consequence of accepting its relevance,” it said.

The briefing illustrated the point by pointing to the experience of Ian Thomson, now a solutions architect at West Sussex County Council.

Thomson is the first person ever to have achieved a new accreditation in user experience from the Nielsen Norman Group.

The council is now working with its ICT partner Capita and to embed user experience design in developing a new website, Socitm said.

Colin Marrs

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