Local government not signed up to ‘digital by default’ agenda suggest results from latest Better connected survey of council

Key results from this year’s survey are: 

•      Thirty-seven councils (9% of the total) have achieved the top, four star ranking in the 15th annual Better connected survey of all 433 council websites, published by Socitm Insight on March 1.  

•      Thirteen of these four star sites also achieved the new Better connected standard for access from mobile devices  

•      The number of three star sites is 140, and overall, council websites have shown a small decline in quality since 2012.  

•      Visitor feedback over the same period, taken from Socitm’s Website takeup service, records satisfaction down on all counts. 

•      New entrants to Better connected’s top 20 list this year are: Adur & Worthing, Kent CC, Medway, Oldham MBC, Rhondda Cynon Taf CBC and South Lanarkshire  

•      Of the top tasks tested in the survey, ‘Object to planning application’ is the weakest (32% of sites reach the Better connected standard), followed by  ‘Dispose of an old bed’ (34%) and ‘Find out about free nursery places’ (34%). ‘Pay a parking fine’ tested best of all of 14 tasks, with 72% of sites achieving the standard. 

•      On general measures of usability, there has been minor improvement in the use of A to Z, no change in use of location, minor deterioration in use of search engine, but significant deterioration in resilience and accessibility 

•      Just under a third of councils with an answerphone message for out-of-hours calls are still failing to refer callers to the website, indicating significant lack of corporate commitment to self-service by these councils. Among these are six four star sites. 

•      A survey on ‘digital engagement’ that examined the use of online customer accounts, e-mail alerts, and promotion of social media showed patchy performance with just 17 councils rated as very good. 

•      A survey on implementation of cookie warnings and information found 113 councils using on average 30 cookies each, but without listing cookies for the public.  

Results from the latest Better connected survey of council website performance suggest that, with notable exceptions, local government organisations are not yet signed up to the ‘digital by default’ agenda set by the Government. 

Although there has been an increase in the number of 4 star sites, there has been a small decline since 2012 in the number of sites achieving three and four stars in the survey (177 cf 183). This compares with a rise in three and four star sites between 2011 and 2012 from 32% to 42%. 

These results are supported by visitor feedback data from 2012, taken from a different survey (Socitm’s Website takeup service) of council website users. This records satisfaction down on all measures, including overall satisfaction and satisfaction with specific features of the site. Visit failure rates (from the same survey) are also up, reversing trends over the previous two years. 

The Better connected assessment is built around the concept of ‘top tasks’. This approach to website design and navigation enables quick and simple customer journeys for website users from search engine or home page through to resolution.  

Navigation for top tasks continues to be a key weakness in council websites, with only 37% passing the Better connected standard. Service landing pages that have not been adapted for ‘top tasks’ are a major problem. 

The report suggests that deficiencies in the governance, management and resourcing of websites, raised as an issue in last year’s report persist, and may have got worse. 

Failure to improve websites, or even maintain existing standards, will undermine the potential to deliver savings and efficiencies associated with channel shift, and to meet customers’ growing expectations of what service delivery online should be like. These are key goals of the Government’s Digital Strategy published in November last year. 

Writing in the foreword to Better connected 2013, Martin Reeves, Chief Executive of Coventry City Council and President of Solace says: ‘This year’s Better Connected report should be required reading for every senior manager and chief executive in local government. The report gives us an important insight into how it feels as a customer of our services and for some of us it’s a salutary reminder that stuff that feels obvious to us can seem a mystery to the vast majority of people who don’t understand our jargon and our organisational structures.’ 

Better connected 2013 will be available to Socitm Insight subscribers from 1 March 2013, together with supporting spreadsheets. Non-subscribers will be able to buy a printed version of the report at a cost of £495 (£450 for Socitm members in non-subscribing organisations).  It can be ordered from www.socitm.net 

Spreadsheets available only to Socitm Insight subscribers include: 

•      A summary of the results of the main survey, together with the supporting surveys (ie use of mobile device, digital engagement, phone contacts, and

use of cookies).

•      ‘Your council spreadsheet’ that shows the answers to each question in the main survey, alongside the questions and the guidance notes that each reviewer had available during the survey. 

•      An index of council references contains all references to examples of good practice, entries in the lists of top sites etc, so that subscribers have a quick reference to their council (or other councils). Over 50% of councils are listed as having examples of good practice.

•      A summary of the accessibility results brings together all the detailed information about the accessibility assessments and highlights those who have passed or failed the task-based assessments (using the WCAG2.0 standard).

•      A summary of Sitemorse results brings together all the detailed information about the technical performance of each council

•      A summary of Local Directgov results indicates the proportion of broken links that councils have supplied to Local Directgov so that visitors to GOV.UK can go straight to the local authority service that they need.

•      A summary of Experian Hitwise results brings together all the detailed information about website visits for each council as a percentage of the local government market. 

New features in 2013: 

•      First survey into evidence of digital engagement with website visitors 

•      First survey into use of cookies by council websites 

•      Preview of framework for local digital services to be launched by Socitm in April 2013 

A summary of the headline results for all Socitm Insight subscribing loca authorities will be made available as open data under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA licence on www.socitm.net .