This is the first year in almost 20 years that I haven’t been reviewing local authority websites for Socitm’s Better connected, and it’s turned my thoughts to how I got involved in the first place.
Colleagues with my experience now call themselves UX Architects, but back in the 90s there was no such term; only three quarters of local authorities even had a website and certainly no one was called a web manager. I was a Press Officer in Hackney Council with a keen interest in our website (developed by the IT department) and we managed to create a job for me to be in charge of content and look and feel, which we called ‘Multi-media Editor’. I had just commissioned some focus groups on our site and undertaken a review comparing it to a couple of neighbouring council sites. I desperately wanted some ‘best practice’ to learn from, but I had no idea which of the 467 UK local authorities had a decent website.
It was, frustratingly, just after I had produced my report and plans that the first of the Better connected series of reports came out. It was called ‘Well Connected?’ and was the result of a team of reviewers looking at every single local authority website and recording how well developed each was for a series of 10 common service areas ranging from tourism and leisure to education, housing and economic development. For each topic the report listed core information, common information, links to other sites, and most importantly examples of well developed sites for that subject. It was a fantastic resource for any local council wishing to develop their website to have at their fingertips, the result of many hours of research. I referred to it frequently when working on our site, then approached the man in charge Martin Greenwood and got involved in its production as soon as I could.
I’ve been heavily involved ever since and surveyed UK council sites countless times in search of good practice for others to emulate. In 2019 Better connected has been reduced to an accessibility survey, so I’m twiddling my thumbs, but ever hopeful that Socitm’s plans come to fruition to bring back and further develop this evolving project that has been such a big part of my professional life.