Building Perfect Council Websites '10 conference

Yesterday I had the pleasure of chairing a discussion attended by representatives from 10 different councils at the Building Perfect Council Websites ’10 conference at Olympia.

I spent a few minutes headlining the findings from our 2010 council report The Devil Is in the Detail and then opened up the discussion. The overwhelming consensus was that all council sites need to improve in some way but there are a number of challenges to overcome to achieve this:

  • Getting budgets for citizen research and usability studies in a time of extreme cost cutting is going to difficult
  • High reliance on third party software vendors to make changes to self service functionality needs to resolved
  • Balancing internal and external stakeholder expectations needs careful management
  • Large and inflexible site structures that have grown organically over the years need to be refined
  • Unused and unnecessary content needs to be edited or removed

We discussed a number of approaches and techniques for getting citizens involved in the design process that won’t break the bank. Techniques I’ve used before include:

  • Setting up informal usability testing sessions in a library, shopping centre or council offices
  • Undertaking detailed desk-based research that combines expert website evaluation alongside detailed analyses of website statistics to build a picture of what is working and what is suboptimal
  • Focus group research to gather feedback quickly with multiple demographic groups
  • Small-scale usability sessions with a small number of participants to validate the desk research and flesh out the common problems and concerns
  • Telephone call observation and interviews with contact centre representatives to identify the top issues that people contact the council about

As with all user-centered design it’s imperative that careful consideration is done upfront when planning the research. A coherent research plan will ensure that the component parts work together to build one picture and validate each other. The target audience needs to be agreed upfront and if recruiting for usability testing be very specific who you want to test with and recruit appropriately; there’s little value testing your self service functionality with someone who’ll never use it or has little or no interest in the tasks you give them.

Above all it’s important to remember that any citizen involvement is better that none!

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