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Better connected 2005

The efficiency agenda is prompting us to encourage citizens to switch wherever reasonable to 'self-servicing' their requests. Authorities are also looking to encourage intermediaries from the private and voluntary sectors to act on the citizen's behalf.  To achieve this, online services need to be designed around the needs of the citizen. Websites must — more than ever before — allow people to transact their business with government, in ways that are easy to find and simple to use. I commend this report as essential reading for everyone in the field of implementing electronic local government.

Ian Watmore, Head of e-Government Unit/Government Chief Information Systems Officer (CIO)


Better connected 2005 is available to Socitm Insight subscribers from 1 March in the subscriber area of this site.  Non-subscribers can order copies now.

This is Socitm Insight's seventh annual survey of the state of development of local authority websites across the UK.

2005 is a landmark in local e-government policy with the target to achieve 100% electronic service delivery by 31 December. In England, this date will also be the target for achieving the required 'priority service outcomes'.

The website is crucial for implementing these policies. How do local authority websites match up to these targets, and also to the need to join up services? To find out the answers to these questions, and many others, we have examined every UK local authority website and judged them against our standard for quality websites of being 'useful, usable and used'.

The results published in Better connected 2005 show that local authority websites are continuing to improve in terms of their content and usability. However, there is little evidence of a major surge forward in recognition of the targets for 100% electronic service delivery and it is clear that some councils will struggle to meet the ODPM's priority service outcomes – particularly in the area of accessibility.

However, as Ian Watmore says in his foreword to the report, those local authorities that Better connected 2005 shows to be lagging should not lose heart. Providing online services is a bit like playing a game of snakes and ladders illustrated on the report cover — major advances can be made relatively quickly, and adopting the best practice revealed in Better connected 2005, and our companion publications Better connected: building for the future, and Building usage of council websites: summary of early findings from the Socitm Insight website take-up service will be one of the best ways of doing so. 

Order your copy of Better Connected 2005

Order your copy of Better connected: building for the future

Order your copy of Building usage of council websites

 

Socitm Insight subscribers can use this link to go direct to all Insight reports as well as the separate appendices and related files that accompany them.

Also, a discussion forum will soon be available for you to post comments and read what others think about what the report has to say.

How the research reported in Better connected 2005 was done

A team of reviewers visited all 468 local authority sites between November and December 2004.  Using a structured questionnaire with over 85 questions, the reviewers assessed how well each website performed on:

 website content and currency
 the availability of interactive applications (eg making payments or bookings and reporting information)
 usability of the website and accessibility to users with physical and mental impairments
 the quality and usability of search functions, navigation, and A-Z lists
 use of maps and forms
 availability of statistics about site usage
 how well the website 'joins-up' with other public services

This 'mystery shopping' exercise was supplemented by nine other separate surveys conducted with a series of partner organisations.  Those involved and the surveys done include:

e-citizen national project for results from their market research programme
Effortmark Ltd for a survey on accessibility of forms design
Emphasis Training Ltd for website readability - sample of websites only
esd-toolkit and Hitwise UK for data on numbers using websites
MORI for information about access to the Internet
Nielsen//NetRatings for visitor feedback on websites - sample of websites only
RNIB for website accessibility
SciVisum Ltd for additional testing into web technology
SiteMorse Technologies Ltd for various technical assessments
Speed-trap Ltd for technical assessment of website usage - sample of websites only

Using the research findings, the team then classified the websites as 'promotional'; 'content'; 'content plus' or 'transactional'.  'Transactional' means significantly interactive and is seen as the goal to which all local authority websites should be aspiring in order to meet the requirements of e-government. 

This year's results

This year's headline results are that:

38 local authorities (8%) have transactional sites – compared with 23 (5%) in 2004
227 (49%) have content plus sites – 177 (38%) in 2004
181 (38%) have content sites - 209 (45%) in 2004
23 (5%) of councils have promotional sites – compared with 57 (12%) in 2004
(one site was unavailable and as a result unclassified)


In addition there has been:

● net increase overall of 128 websites moving up a category - compared with 146 in 2004
● net increase of 15 in transactional sites (increase of 13 in 2004)
● net increase of 49 in content plus sites (increase of 48 in 2004)
● net reduction of 33 in promotional sites (reduction of 37 in 2004)
● net reduction of 28 in content sites (reduction of 25 in 2004)
● net reduction of 25 sites moving back a category - compared with 47 in 2004

175 councils (37%) have stayed at the same level over the past three years, comprising 12 that have remained P sites; 82 that have remained C sites; and 71 that have remained C+ sites.

New features in Better connected 2005

A number of new items have been added to the report this year.  These include:

A survey of the websites of eight passenger transport executives (PTEs)
Information on how council websites responded to the tsunami disaster
An examination of the quality of responses to our regular e-mail test
An in-depth examination of usability of forms design
A survey of indexability of web pages
An assessment of the state of A to Z lists of services
A test of results from common searches
A systematic assessment of use of access keys by local authority websites
An examination of text-only sites
An analysis of visitor behaviour in using the website
Detailed market research into the potential for take-up of local government services
A detailed survey of progress against priority service outcomes in England, based on evidence from websites
Analysis of joined-up working for each area, county by county
First analysis of regional portals seen from council websites
A survey of the websites of eight English Regional Assemblies (plus the London Assembly)

Report contents summary

Better connected 2005 is presented in six parts:

Part A Today's context: We set out the purpose of this survey, the process by which websites are assessed, including our quality assurance procedures and the criteria of 'useful, usable and used' that we apply. We then summarise the changing policy context (eg the Efficiency Review), which will influence the way in which websites develop in this landmark year of 2005.

Part B Overview of this year's results
The first part of the results looks at the national picture in terms of overall rankings and improvement trends, and includes our lists of transactional sites, our Top 20 and other top groupings.

Part C This year's results — useful content
Now we describe the detailed analysis of the results, focusing firstly on content. We report here on two scenarios of typical visitors for information content, and then examine other aspects of content such as currency of information, use of links, response to e-mail, development of forms, provision of services and the practice of participation. All these factors contribute to the usefulness of the content of the site.

Part D This year's results — usability
The second stage of the results focuses on ease of use. 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 the website.

Part E This year's results — usage
Our third perspective is focused on usage. Switching from the product to the customer, we examine different aspects of the demand side. In particular, we summarise the latest results from the Socitm Insight website take-up service, introduce new data about what visitors actually do in practice and conclude with important new market research from the e-citizen national project.

Part F The future
For councils in England, 2005 will be dominated by the priority service outcomes. The evidence is that, optimistically, councils may just about be on target. A more dominant factor influencing the future for the whole of the UK is the Efficiency Review which will lead to tougher standards for website development, with the objective of increasing take-up.


Note: How the Better connected team rates websites

Socitm Insight has developed a rating system for local authority websites.  This rating reflects the potential for local authority websites to pay a major role in the delivery of e-government.  On this basis, all local authority websites should be aspiring to achieve 'transactional' status as soon as possible, with the steps along the way being the achievement first of promotional, then content, and then content plus status. 

Promotional sites provide basic promotional information about the organisation with very little scope for interaction. They might typically concentrate on tourism, economic development and basic departmental information, with limited information on individual services beyond an A-Z with telephone contact numbers. Little use will be made of e-mail or online feedback, although a few gateway links might be provided.

Content sites provide useful content and encourage some interaction. They have more sophisticated promotional information (eg accommodation search, downloadable files) and include features such as What's New pages, A-Z service listings and keyword site search facilities.  They usually include some basic user interaction (eg clicking on an area map to find details of local councillors) and make use of e-mail and online feedback on home pages.

Content plus sites provide very useful content and offer some examples of moreadvanced online self-service features. They allow individual users to define their own search criteria (eg search by postcode for service information, refine searches of local tourist accommodation by type and price), may include links to services such as Girobank for online payment and online databases for items such as library catalogues, planning applications, committee minutes. Service information is comprehensive and makes widespread use of e-mail, online feedback and even discussion forums. Such sites also typically host information on behalf of the wider local community.

Transactional sites are accessible, complete, thoughtful and coherent. They have developed more than one type of online interaction (eg payment, applications, consultation, bookings) and also offer examples of customer recognition (eg ability to check outstanding Council Tax balance). They also provide specific email contacts for different service enquiries and make widespread use of databases, downloadable forms and online form filling (eg for service requests, appointments). They routinely utilise the potential of the Internet for joined-up government (eg OFSTED reports listed alongside schools listings) and offer unique examples of the application of the medium in a local government context.

Acknowledgements

Socitm would like to thank the following organisations for their help in contributing to Better connected 2005. Their advice has helped to add balance with a number of different perspectives:

e-citizen national project (www.e-citizen.gov.uk)
Effortmark Ltd www.effortmark.co.uk
E-Government Unit in the Cabinet Office(www.egu.gov.uk)
Emphasis Training Ltd (www.writing-skills.com)
esd-toolkit (www.esd-toolkit.org)
Hitwise  UK (www.hitwise.co.uk)
MORI Social Research Institute (www.mori.com)
Nielsen//NetRatings (www.nielsen-netratings.com)
Royal National Institute for the Blind (www.rnib.org.uk)
SciVisum Ltd (www.scivisum.co.uk)
SiteMorse Technologies Ltd (www.sitemorse.com)
Society of Public Information Networks (www.spin.org,uk)
speed-trap Ltd(www.speed-trap.com)
The publication

Better connected 2005 comes in the form of a detailed guide of 228 pages in its e-version (available to Socitm Insight subscribers) and 204 pages in the printed version, which excludes some of the technical appendices.  There is a separate 8 page briefing Efficiency, transformation and the council website written for elected members, chief executives and senior managers.

If you subscribe.... you can read these reports online or take an electronic copy by going into the subscriber only area. If you do not subscribe....you can order your copy now at a cost of 350 (325 Socitm members).

Remember that, while our publications are available to non-subscribers, it will be more cost-effective to take out a subscription. Better still, why not subscribe now and make sure you keep in touch with all our research and best practice advice and receive all our publications as soon as they are available? You can find out more about the benefits from this link 

Subscribe now to Socitm Insight

To order Previous publications still available in this series

Special offer

If you order a copy of Better connected 2005 (price 350) together with a copy of Better connected: building for the future (price 150) we will send you both publications for just 450.  Further information about Better connected: building for the future can be found from this link.

Finally.......Don't forget the value added service from the Better connected project team. You can also have your website assessed in detail by our experts. For further information contact insight@socitm.gov.uk


 

Last modified on 01/03/2005 11:15