Governance trumps cash in council website performance

Oversight by senior council managers plays a much bigger role in website performance than resources and budgets, according to new research.

The striking finding is among early conclusions released from this year’s Better Connected survey of local authority websites carried out by Socitm, the representative body for local ICT professionals.

For the first time in 2015, report includes information about how local authorities manage local government online, including governance, strategy and policy, content management, performance and usage measurement, resources and budgets.

The full report will not be released until 2 March but early information released today said: “Where web performance is reported in to a corporate management board, or a tier one or two officer, performance…is 37% higher that where it is reported lower down, including the 41% that report to a head of service (tier 3 or below).”

“Surprisingly, the level of resources and budget applied have no clear impact on performance…with greater resources and budgets not automatically leading to improved quality of the online experience.”

However, the report did say that the research showed that some councils are “clearly under-resourced (or under-skilled) and underfunded to do the job that is required”.

Having the chief executive as the organisation’s ‘digital champion’ also impacts positively on performance, according to the report.

Elsewhere, the Better Connected report found only 46% of the 433 local authority websites met Socitm’s standard for providing information on local councillors. 41% of sites failed specifically because names and parties of local councillors could not be found.

In addition, many council websites failed to provide a simple clear statement of which political party is in control of the council.

A statement from Socitm said: “The poor result for this task is indicative of the fact that democracy sections of local authority websites have failed to evolve significantly in the last few years.

“It is not satisfactory to have to know the name of your ward, in order to find your councilor, especially where no advice is given for finding out which ward you live in.”

More than one Socitm reviewer observed that problems were sometimes down to poor implementation of the ModernGov software that many councils use to manage information on democratic services pages.

“Reviewers suggested that this might be because democratic services teams that procure and manage implementation of the software tend to be more pre-occupied with serving councillors than they are with serving customers trying to access services via the website,” Socitm said.

Colin Marrs

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