Business Analysed

Observations from a Business Analyst

The Social Local Authority

with 4 comments

I was recently made aware of Bracknell Forest Council Web Development Blog by a tweet from someone who is working towards encouraging councils to become more social. This got me thinking about the work Bracknell Forest are doing and also the work of organisations such as MySociety and FillThatHole as a way of empowering the citizen to interact more with their local authority.  

Such sites and projects raise questions about the response the local authority will give to the information that is delivered from a variety of sources.

Firstly, what happens if the local authority chooses to ignore the information submitted? In which case the site is outdated unless a third party takes the time to update and respond where possible. There’s a number of ways that council can choose to respond to submitted information which could include RSS feeds giving updated status, or automatic emails reporting changes to the status of the call, or more complex solutions such as full interfaces allowing integration between trusted sites and the local authority. All these ways of interfacing and responding will have to be processed by the 3rd party site – but getting a response in the first place is the biggest battle.

Secondly, why are such sites successful in the first place? I believe the answer is simple – sites such as FixMyStreet offer an interface for members of the public to report problems to their local authority in a way that they want. I am sure that citizens are not deliberately shunning the council in favour of a different site it is just that the council does not have the same interfaces as the public expect.  The solution for local authorities is just as simple – adapt! – change the website to meet the requirements of the pubic and learn from those sites that have gone before and developed public solutions.

There is a mindset that Local Authorities are a service delivery just as any other company such as telecoms, high street shops, utilities etc.. whereby the customer can sit back and expect everything to be delivered without having to lift a finger and having the right to complain should something not be done right.

In a way this is true – however citizens, and businesses, need to update their opinion of the council and realise that they are not customers but actually shareholders and need to take an active part in the running of the organsiation. As with any company the better the relationship with its shareholders and customers the better the service will become. The organisation relies on feedback to improve the services delivered, without that feedback the organisation needs to beome a mind-reader.  There is a limited number of ways that

Citizens need to become more involved and be prepared to take responsibility for their actions – no longer is it ‘The Council’ it should now be ‘Our council’ and the work done by Bracknell Forest and other authorities are helping breaking down the barriers.


Written by Paul Jennings

December 18, 2008 at 4:35 pm

4 Responses

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  1. An interesting article. I think you have hit the nail on the head by saying that social networking (or Web 2.0) sites offer an interface for members of the public to report problems to their local authority in a way that they want. This certainly was one of our main reasons for exploring social networking – namely to enagage with people in a space that they want to be in. Unfortunately a Council website is not always that attractive to people unless they have a task to complete, such as making a planning application or reserving a library book. So if we do want people to talk to us we have to find out where they feel more comfortable to converse.

    We are very much ‘newbies’ to social networking and will certainly make some mistakes along the way. But hopefully this will demonstrate that we are human and do understand the value of hearing what people think of our services and website. How can we improve if we don’t listen?

    We are very keen to invite people and particularly local residents of Bracknell Forest to join our Focus Group to help us during the redevelopment of our website and beyond.

    Colin Stenning

    December 18, 2008 at 8:14 pm

  2. Hi Colin,

    Thank you for your comment. It is good to see LAs such as Bracknell investigating different ways to engage with their citizens and customers.

    You quite rightly pointed out that a Council website has limited attraction to the general public, and even then only for a dedicated purpose that dose not happen daily – i.e. planning application, report a problem etc..

    My view is that councils need to look to other sites and ask what attracts surfers to visit those sites everyday and try to incorporate those elements into the council site. Why shouldn’t a council site be a surfer’s homepage..?

    It today’s world of mash-ups, RSS feeds and open APIs there is no excuse to re-visit the look and feel of a council website, or even enabling it to be shared with other sites such as igoogle.

    Thank you for your comment again and I will watch with interest the work of Bracknell.


    Paul Jennings

    December 19, 2008 at 2:10 pm

  3. Paul,

    I think you are write that a council could provide someone with enough interest to be their home page, but increasingly the first port of call is becoming ultra sociable sites, so the council would have to tolerate a very broad range of stuff happening on it’s place or perhaps accept that it is simple a feed reader branded with some links to services.

    The interesting cultural challenge comes from citizens who get and do stuff because the council isn’t doing it well enough or the way they like it to be done. Mysociety has done this often and the healthiest response is not to say we want one of those but to encourage their citizens to use the sites that work. Another example is which are a group of people trying to help the council have a richer conversation around a consultation.

    Institutions wince at efforts like these – words like “anarchy” get bandied around – or people ask “who gave them permission”. It’s a control culture which will take some eroding.

    Both of you are right to say that the secret is go and join the conversation where people are making ti happen.

    Nick Booth

    February 18, 2009 at 10:46 am

  4. Finally i quit my regular job, now i earn a lot of money on-line you
    should try too, just type in google – blackhand roulette system


    September 14, 2014 at 7:42 pm

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