GREAT WORK: 23 bright ways to use social media in the public sector

There was a brilliant update on Twitter the other day which hit the nail right on the head.

“The best social media,” it read “doesn’t happen in an office.”

That’s dead right.

For a long while now I’ve been arguing that communications people should share the sweets, relax a little and learn to let go. It’s by doing that they can really reap the rewards of good and trusted communications channels.

I’m not alone by any means in thinking this and it’s excellent to start seeing the rewards being reaped.

Here are some good examples of digital communications that caught my eye over the last few months.

What’s worth commenting on is that the majority of the good examples are not done directly by comms people. They’re done by people in the field telling their stories or they’re using content that first originated outside an office to tell a story.

Real time updates by people on the ground work brilliantly.

Back in 2008, digital innovation in the public sector – and third sector – was isolated. What this quick link collection now shows is that it’s mainstream and unstoppable.

Twitter

National Trust Dudmaston Hall, Shropshire – If only more organisations were like the National Trust. We’d all be eating better cake for one. They’re also getting good at digital communications. They’re equipping venues with social media accounts to give you updates and insights from the ground.

I’m quite partial to this stream from the Shropshire stately home which is near Bridgnorth and a personal family favourite. They talk to people and they update. More people are likely to sign-up for a venue rather than an organisation that looks after lots of venues although there is a space for that too. You can follow them on Twitter here.

Acton Scott Museum, Shropshire – An imaginative use of pictures makes this Twitter stream fly. How can you not see horse drawn ploughing and not want to go and visit? You can follow them on Twitter here. 

National Trust Central Fells – Using the principle if you do good things tell people the @ntcentralfells Twitter do a good job of updating people on the work they do. Most of the time it’s witnessed by two walkers and some sheep. They updated progress on building a bridge in a remote spot of Easedale in with pictures of them at work and reaped the benefit of feedback from people stuck in offices. You can follow them on Twitter here. 

Supt Keith Fraser – A Superintendant in Walsall who keeps people up to speed with events and crime in the town. Personable. Informative and willing to engage on the platform. You can follow him here.

Swedish Tourist Board – It’s rather marvellous is this. Technically, it’s run by the Swedish Tourist Board but this isn’t a collation of picture book shots and platitudes. They give the @sweden Twitter to a new Swede every week. More than 20,000 people follow it. You can follow them here.

Walsall Council Countryside Officers – I’m a bit biased in that I know Morgan Bowers the countryside ranger but I absolutely love what she has done with social media. A digital native she uses her iphone to update Twitter with what she is doing, what newt survey results are and pictures of the sky over Barr Beacon. This is brilliant.  You can follow her on Twitter here. Her manager Kevin Clements has also picked up the baton on Twitter with regular updates. You can follow him here and it’s good to see the burden shared.

Walsall Council Environmental Health Officer David Matthews – Britain’s first tweeting environmental health officer David Matthews was a big part in why Walsall 24 worked as an event. He was able to spot snippets of interest that he passed through for others to tweet. Afterwards, he didn’t need much persuasion to take up an account in his own name. The @ehodavid was puts out the normal updates and warnings but with added humour. Much of the frontline updates is anonymised. Pictures taken of dreadful takeaways need a health warning to look at during lunchtime. You can follow him here.

Blogs

Pc Rich Stanley blog – Walsall has a stong claim to be a digital outpost. One of the big reasons for this is the way West Midlands Police have picked up the baton – or should that be truncheon? – and embraced social media. Pc Rich Stanley uses Twitter well but also blogs excellently on various day-to-day aspects of the job. Here he talks about policing the Aston Villa v Chelse football game. 

Walsall Council Social Care – People in social care do a brilliant job. They’re good at saving lives. Literally. But all too often they don’t do a good jo of telling their story. As a sector they shelter behind big stone walls and hope a high profile case like Baby P NEVER happens to them. Tina Faulkner and Becky Robinson are comms people who both understand old and new media and have blogged stories from the frontline. You can read them here.

Audioboo

Walsall Leather Museum Audioboo – Francesca Cox eyes lit up when she heard of Audioboo. A couple of days later she posted this chat with a demonstrator about her first day at work. What the clip does is open up all sorts of possibilities with oral history and when embedded on another website brings a different aspect to this.

Pinterest

US Army – Like geeks with an interest in sub-machine guns the people behind the US Army social media presence are blending both interests well. Pinterest is a way to collect pictures in the one place. If pictures tell 1,000 words this collection speaks a great deal on what messages the military would like to get across. It’s split into themes. You can find it here.

Facebook

Can We Make Walsall A More Creative Place? – Walsal Council’s regeneration scrutiny committee wanted to look at the creative industries. We launched a Facebook page to begin to connect. Fifty people have liked it so far to allow the start of feedback. Face-to-face meetings are now planned. You can like it here.

NASA Facebook timeline – One of the many things I really love about this page is the way NASA have embraced timeline. Scroll back to 1965 and you can look at content they’ve updated from that year featuring the first NASA spacewalk. For any organisation with a long history this approach is a must. You can like it here.

Northycote Park and Country Park on Facebook – Wolverhampton Council’s parks team do a really good job of innovating using social media. They’ve been experimenting with creating Facebook pages for venues. This is Northycote Park and Country Park and has 200 likes a few weeks after it was launched. It has pictures of new born lambs and updates on events. You can like it here.

Monmouthshire Council Youth Service on Facebook – Hel Reynolds has flagged up this page. A youth worker updates it. Not a comms person. This means that it has a tone that suits the people it is aimed at and doesn’t come over as trendy uncle Monmouth breakdancing at a wedding. You can like it here. 

Flickr

US government’s EPA Documerica project on Flickr – In the early 1970s the Documerica project sent photographers to capture environmental issues across the country. They captured car jams, low flying planes, people meeting up in public spaces and other things. They’ve posted many of the images onto Flickr and they’re a time capsule of how the US was. You can see them here. To update them they have a blog to encourage a 2012 version here and a Flickr group here.

Torfaen Council on Flickr – Here’s a council that is posting images to Flickr routinely. They show a good range of images that residents can see. You can see them here.

Covering meetings

WV11 on PACT meetings – The wv11 blog have worked with West Midlands Police to cover public meetings – known as PACT meetings – to allow residents to pose questions and see what is happening in their patch. It’s great work and shows how you can connect to people who want to be civic minded but struggle to reach meetings. You can read a blog of a meeting here and a storify here.

Oldham Council – It’s an excellent idea to make interactive council meetings. This Guardian pieces captures why.

Birmingham City Council – Comms officer Geoff Coleman has done some excellent work with live streaming council meetings. It opens up democracy and promotes transparency. It’s netted 10,000 views. You can read about it here.

Crowd sourcing

Birmingham City Council’s election plans – This year plans to be a big year in Birmingham. There’s a chance of a change of administration and there will be great attention on the council and most importantly, how they communicate the changes in real time. What better way than crowd source what people want?  You can read it here.

YouTube

Caerphilly Council – Digital video clips are easy to consume but notoriously difficult to do effectively. Many have tried in local government but few have been as effective as Caerphilly Council with their nationally sigificant use of YouTube clips. One clip both pokes gentle fun at themselves and features a sheep with social media logos roaming the borough. It makes you smile. It keeps you informed. It’s fleecey brilliance.

Creative commons credits: 

Road at Rifle, Ohio in 1972 http://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/3815027813/

Documerica Photographer, David Hiser, at Dead Horse Point, 05/1972 http://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/3814966348/


DO, SHARE: Why I blog (and you should too.)

Just recently I hit an unexpected milestone. 

This blog has clocked-up more than 50,000 page views in the past 21 months.

Considering it was only ever written for two men and a dog that’s something I’m falling off my chair at.

Mind, that figure is skewed by a single crowd sourced blog post on what I should tell colleagues sceptical about Twitter. That got RT’d by @twitter itself and pinged to its 5.4 million followers.

But what it did do was make me think of why I started blogging in the first place. What has resulted and why I think others should too.

There are 98 million words a day posted to WordPress blogs, 53 per cent of bloggers are aged 25 to 35, according to Mashable.

Why did I start blogging?

Because I was getting a fund of information from them myself and wanted to add to that stream.

Because I saw blogs that I admired from colleagues. Like Alastair Smith, Dave Briggs, Carl Haggerty and Sarah Lay.

Because I similarly felt I had something to say and share.

Because something on Liz Azyan’s excellent blog prompted me to take the plunge.

Because – most importantly – I bet @jaynehowarth who was similarly dithering that if I didn’t I’d send her cake.

Some of my blogs have been absolute stinkers. Some I’m proud of. One I even wrote in a car park in Solihull. All have been written in my spare time.

What’s been the benefit?

Valuable thinking time.  An online notebook to refer back to. Having a voice. Shouting about some of things we’ve done or others have done well.

There’s been the unexpected spin-offs too. A chance to speak on interesting subjects to interesting people at interesting places. I’ve a vague feeling this may be a help to my career at some point down the track.

Why YOU should blog

For all the above reasons. But mostly because we’re all learning. All of us. There are no experts. There’s just shared knowledge. Your view is a just as important.  There’s not a blog post I’ve read by someone in local government I’ve not learned something from.

Because with platforms like WordPress it’s pretty straightforward.

Because it’ll give you skills for the future. Whether you write about local government things or, like Kate Goodall, a blog on parks you take your dog for a walk in.

Because ‘do stuff then share it’ is a good thing to aspire to.

Because none of us are experts on everything. But we do know about our tiny corner of the allotment and by sharing it we get a sense of the bigger picture.

Creative commons credits

Tomato http://www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/2178363927/sizes/o/in/photostream/

Sky writing http://www.flickr.com/photos/floridamemory/3328074451/sizes/m/in/faves-danieldslee/

Red tulip Erica Marshall of muddyboots.org

http://www.flickr.com/photos/erica_marshall/469245453/sizes/l/in/photostream/


BETTER CONNECTED: Case study: How a community festival used social media – with 4 extra ideas for next year

Get out of the social media bubble, talk to real people and you may be surprised.

Digital skills may be valuable online but offline they’re part of a mix of things needed to make an event work.

One blogger has argued that its such a part of her life she didn’t think of ‘social media’ as such anymore. It’s part of life.

That’s fine for digital natives. But that’s not the case for people like Walsall artist Alan Cheeseman.

Together with a team of like-minded volunteers he helped stage a festival in the Caldmore in Walsall in the West Midlands.

Walsall Council chipped in with funding and support. So did social housing provider whg, the National Lottery and one or two other places.

Where’s Caldmore? First, it’s pronounced karma. Narrow Victorian terraced streets crowd around a small green hardly big enough to host a cricket square. Legend has it that Boy George lived there in his Walsall days.

Sari shops, balti houses, pubs and shops that sell cheap calls to the Indian sub-continent dominate the shopping area.

It’s a place where migrant workers settled amongst the indiginous English to take low-paid jobs in factories. The communities have remained while the factories they came to have gone to the wall.

It’s a place a mile square of three churches, a mosque and a Sikh temple.

It suffers from deprivation, crime and suffers the stigma of a prostitution problem that has eased.

But as the Caldmore Village Festival shows, the place has a powerful resilience and a creative and community-minded people.

In part its scores of micro-communities around the mosque, the church, the pub or the temple.

For this event they came together.

More than 11,000 came to 15 venues across three days for the festival.

Kibadi, Bollywood dancing, live music and dance brought people in. So did the Pakistani sport of stone lifting. An amazing sight where men lift carved stone.

Ask Alan what made it worth while and its not the numbers that excite him. It’s the little stories. It’s getting the tearaway kid to put a volunteer’s orange bib on and give him what could be the first piece of responsibility he’s ever known.

But what role did social media have in all this?

“Things like the internet. That’s for educated people really, isn’t it?” says Alan.

“I’m not sure how much of what we did actually helped.”

It’s a fair point and you have to admire Alan’s honesty.

In Walsall,the percentage of people online every day is below the national average of 60 per cent.

Caldmore is the place the Talk About Local project was invented for.

An initiative to bridge the digital divide and equip communities with an online voice the initiative trained Alan and set him up on a blog.

Sessions open to all backgrounds were run at a neighbourhood resource called Firstbase by community worker Stuart Ashmore where the basics of WordPress were explained.

As a tool for communities this blogging platform is as powerful as a printing press in the 19th century.

Easy to use and simple to master it gives an online presence to anyone with an internet connection.

Alan explained: “We used the blog. We’d update it maybe once a month and we had links to it coming from around 50 other sites.”

Alan was quietly impressed at the digital waves he did make: “I was quite suprised to see 1,000 hits in the week before the festival started.”

But as Alan says the main lesson is to see digital as just one part of the jigsaw. That’s something some forget. It may reach some people. It won’t reach everyone. So what does?

“Networking helps,” says Alan. “A piece in the local paper helps. So do leaflets.

“We made contact with several organisations and we found that their agenda was similar to ours in many places.

“But face to face is really helpful too. It is like a jigsaw. By doing several things you’ll reach a lot of people.”

In effect, Alan was doing the things that work on the web in the real world.

The message to the online community? Online is part of the answer. It’s not the answer on its own.

Or to put it simply, the equation is this:

Face-to-face + networking + leaflets + digital + newspaper support + community groups + public sector + council staff + ward councillors = a successful community event

The Caldmore Village Festival’s digital footprint…

Blogging – A WordPress blog with monthly updates.

Flickr – Walsall’s Flickr group members were invited along to the event too  were made welcome. Some amazing pictures came out of it. A group was created as a repository for images.

Plug into the blogging eco-system – Walsall news aggregator The Yam Yam – named after the way Walsall people are supposed to speak – plugged the event through its website, it’s Twitter and Facebook streams.

Twitter support – Walsall Council Twitter stream @walsallcouncil linked to new blog posts.

Link support – Links to the blog ended up on around 50 sites.

YouTube – A short film of the stone lifting attraction helped raise the profile.

Ideas for future online activity…

1. Twitter — A face to the organisation on the @hotelalpha9 would work brilliantly. Or simply a festival stream.

2. Facebook — In Walsall, Facebook is the platform of choice with 197,000 people registered in a 10 mile radius. A fan page for the festival will capture that support.

3. Flickr — Use the images from year one to promote year two. Bring the Flickr group back for a second year.

4. Foursquare — Add the venues to the geo-location game. Leave tips for things to do.

Creative commons pics:

Swissrolli: Police officer: http://www.flickr.com/photos/swissrolli/4673534659/in/pool-caldmorefestival

Stuart Williams: Wigs: http://www.flickr.com/photos/swilliams2001/4656475393/sizes/s/in/pool-1470631@N22/

Stuart Williams: Parade: http://www.flickr.com/photos/swilliams2001/4656478577/in/pool-caldmorefestival

Stuart Williams: Drummer: http://www.flickr.com/photos/swilliams2001/4656478577/in/pool-caldmorefestival


GREEN DIGITAL: How parks and countryside can use social media…

If William Wordsworth was alive today he’d be using Twitter.

Not the old stick-in-the-mud he became but the young man fired by revolution.

 

Why? Because he celebrated the English countryside through the media of the day.

How we think of the landscape was shaped by Wordsworth. Before him, mountains were frightful places. After? Beautiful. And Willie cashed in with an 1810 Guide to the Lakes that was the iphone app of its day.

Exploring how our countryside team could use social media made me trawl through some examples.

Whoever said places work can really well on social media were bang on. That’s especially true of parks and countryside. So how is social media being used by to promote the countryside? There’s some really good ideas in patches out there but nothing fundamentally game changing that makes you sit up and write verse. That says to me that there is plenty of potential.

Photography should be at the heart of what the public sector does with countryside and parks. Why? Because a picture tells a 1,000 words. Because they can bring a splash of green into someone’s front room or phone at one click. Criminally, many sites should be promoting the countryside relegate images to a postage stamp picture.

Here are 10 interesting uses:

1. The British Countryside Flickr group has more than 4,000 members and some amazing images. It’s a place where enthusiastic amateur photographers can share pictures and ideas.

2. Peak District National Park chief executive Jim Dixon leads from the front. He blogs about his job at www.jimdixon.wordpress.com and tweets through @peakchief. It’s a good mix of retweeting interesting content and puts a human face on an organisation.

3. Foursquare, Walsall Council added a landmark in a park as a location. The Pit Head sculpture in Walsall Wood was added to encourage people to visit and check-in. You can also make good use of ‘tips’ by adding advice.

4. On Twitter, @uknationalparks represents 15 UK national parks run a traditional Twitter feed with press releases, RTs and some conversation. With 2,000 followers it’s on 145 lists.

5. But you don’t have to be in a national park to do a goods job. In Wolverhampton, @wolvesparkies have a brilliantly engagingly conversational Twitter stream. There is passion, wit and information that make most councils seem the RSS press release machine that they are.

6. National Trust have an excellent Facebook profile. You may get the impression that members are 65 and own a Land Rover. That doesn’t come across here. They observe one of the golden rules of social media. Use the language of the platform. It’s laid back and it’ll tell you when events are planned.

Yorkshire Dales by Chantrybee

Yorkshire Dales by Chantrybee

7. Even more relaxed is the quite new I Love Lake District National Park is quite brilliant. It allows RSS, it blogs and it really encourages interaction. Heck, they even encourage people to post to the wall so they can move shots into albums.

8.  On YouTube, West Sussex County Council have a slick short film on tree wardens that deserves more than 45 views in five months. Or does this show how much take up there is on YouTube?

9. The rather wonderful parksandgardens.ac.uk is an ambitious online tool for images of 6,500 parks and gardens and the people who created and worked in them. @janetedavis flagged this up. It’s a project she worked on and she should be proud of it. There’s a school zone to to connect to young people too and is populated by google map addresses and photographs. Really and truly, council parks and countryside pages should look like this but mostly don’t.

10. Less a government project, or even social media Cumbria Live TV celebrate the landscape they work in utterly brilliantly. Slick and powerful broadcast quality three minute films do more than most to capture the jaw dropping awe of the fells. They self-host some brilliant films on a changing site. Check them out here.

EIGHT things you CAN do aside from write bad poetry about daffodils and shepherds called Michael…

1. A Facebook fan page to celebrate a park or open space. Call it I love Barr Beacon. Yes, the Friends group can use it as a meeting place. But naming it after the place not the organisation leaves the door open to the public too.

2. Give a countryside ranger a Twitter account. Use @hotelalpha9 as an inspiration. Let them update a few times a day with what they’ve been up to. Post mobile phone pictures too.

3. Despite a dearth of amateur good examples there’s potential in short films to promote countryside. You only have to point a camera at something photogenic for people to come over all Lake Poet.

Flowers by Vilseskogen

4. Start a Flickr group to celebrate your patch of countryside. Walsall has 1,000 acres of parks and countryside with amazing views and vistas.

5. Start a blog. WordPress takes minutes to set-up and after messing around only a short time to master. Tell people what you are up to. Whack up a few images. Lovely. For no cost.

6. Make your countryside and parks pages a bit more web 2.0. Use mapping to set out a location. Use Flickr images – with permission – to showcase the place.

7. Add your parks and countryside to a geo-location site such as Foursquare. If the future of social media is location, location, location then venues, landmarks and places will score big.

8. Text. With more mobile phones in the UK than people sometimes the humble text message can be overlooked as part of the package of ways to connect with people. Most councils are also text enabled. Create info boards around a park or countryside with numbers to text to recieve info on what they can see. Change it for the seasons to make best use.

Picture credits:

Newlands Valley, Lake District, UK: Dan Slee.

Wordsworth: Creative commons courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

Yorkshire Dales: Creative commons courtesy of Chantrybee http://www.flickr.com/photos/chantrybee/2911840052/

Flowers: Creative commons courtesy of Vilseskogen http://www.flickr.com/photos/vilseskogen/4182443498/


WEB: So, what makes a good council website?

Jason Santa Maria / Flickr

This was drawn-up after the ‘What makes an ace local government website?’ session at #ukgc10 by Liz Azyan from Camden Council and also the #ukgc10 WordPress session. Some extra thoughts were inserted after…

You’re in a rush. You’re going swimming. You’ve three minutes to find out when the nearest leisure centre closes… and you’re face with a council website.
 
This could be a pleasant experience and for many it is. But if you’re unlucky  you’ll be faced with a sprawling brick wall behemoth of a website written in a funny language riddled with jargon.
 
Oh, Lord.
It’s not gritting information, for example. It’s a winter service plan.   
Your opinion of your council suddenly plummets and you hurl abuse at the screen.
 
But ladies and gentlemen, it doesn’t have to be this way.
 
Liz Azyan’s session at the UK Government Bar Camp ’10 at Google was a thought provoking session with some cracking points.
 
Cards on the table at this stage. I don’t work in a web team. I work with them and more to the point I’m a council taxpayer who uses one.
 
Here are some points that emerged from the session — sprinkled with some that struck me afterwards.
 
What do people want?
 
They want to find the information they are after. Simple.
 
 

What do they often find? 
A website written in council speak with difficult to find pages presented poorly. In short a frustrating experience.
 

Tech frustration by CCB Images / Flickr

Tech frustration by CCB Images / Flickr

So, why bother with a council website?
 
It’s an argument that – surprisingly – seems still to exist in some quarters. Isn’t it just a big waste of money? Actually, no. Quite the reverse. After getting attacked for wasting money by TPA Lincolnshire Council responded with a cool, calm and brilliantly argued piece that argued that the cost of web was staggeringly lower than employing people to help face-to-face or over the telephone. It’s worth taking a look at.
 
What’s the average cost of contact via a council website?
 
For contact, read an occasion a member of the public needs to contact the council.
 
            Face to face              £7.81
            Telephone                  £4.00
            Online                         £0.17

 
Which does make you think. Vast resources get put – rightly – into a help desk or a one stop information shop. Often, web is seen as a poor relation.
 
There is also a theory that telephone numbers should be hard to find. If you have cost savings in mind pushing people towards the £4 option may not make good sense.
 

 

Do Local Government websites pay enough attention to design and appearance?
 
The hell they do. Some of them look utterly dreadful. There’s an organisation called SOCITM who seek to raise standards in government. Every year they survey Local Government sites on a checklist. Accessibility is key. So is usability. But nothing seems to get assessed on design.
 
One point that Devon’s Carl Haggerty made very strongly – which I totally agree with – is the need for this to change. Design and look IS important. If the website looks poor people won’t even get as far as starting a search.
 
As someone who has worked on newspapers and has put together magazines the look of something is fundamental. Look across the news stands. From the unscientific straw poll in the session colour seemed to be important.
 
Why should we bother to make websites better?
 
We need to improve because people’s expectations are higher.
 
We need to improve because at a time of tighter budgets web is a cost effective solution.
 
We also need to improve because while once council websites had a virtual monopoly on local information those days are changing.
 
As barriers are lowered – by things like WordPress and by the surge in hyperlocal blogs – others can do the job themselves. The case of the tech-savvy Birmingham residents who knocked up their own council website – bcc.diy.co.uk should send wake-up calls throughout local government. If you don’t do it, they are basically saying, someone else will.
 
As more and more data gets released web developers will find their own uses for it. Leisure centres? There’s an app for that. The days of the council website being a monopoly are ending. Smart people are just starting to wake up to that.
 
Yes, but it’s all about the home page, isn’t it?
 
The figures can vary widely. Around 15 per cent of people came onto the site through the home page from one council. That’s not much more than one in ten. A piddling figure. Especially when you take account the time and effort that goes into it. But in another council researched after the session was around 90 per cent.

Brent Council's opt in less busy webpage.

Brent Council's opt in less busy webpage.

The moral of the story to local government webbies  is to research your web stats before changes are made.
 
 
Can you make your homepage less busy?
 
Yes. Brent council offers the option of the traditional busy page and a more simple one. That quite appeals to me.
 
So how do people navigate around your site if they do do that?

 
There’s your website search box. Which often isn’t that great. Even if it’s a google one, apparently. From the experience of several councils much time and effoft is wasted bu users here.
 
There’s your A-Z of services too.
 
There’s also the postcode search which to me seems rather attractive and far more relevant. If I lived in Baswich in Stafford, wouldn’t it be better to tell me what was on offer for me there?
 
There’s also the novel idea of a pictorial map. You point at it. You hover over the bits you want and you click through there. Directgov have a rather attractive planning map that does that.
 
Widgets. Redbridge Council have use this. It’s a similar theory to the igoogle approach where you compose the page that you want from the information that you want. The idea is great but feedback suggests that only small numbers of people have embraced this
 
The message from Liz’s session was that as far as search is concerned you need to pick one way and stick to it. Sites that try and do absolutely everything in the way of search look cluttered, busy and turn people off.

How about open source (and what the hell does that mean?)

At the WordPress #ukgc10 session the idea of WordPress as a web content managament system was talked about. There is much going for it. It’s open source. Which for non-geeks means that you don’t have to pay someone a lorry load of cash to buy it and maintain it. It’s free. You can download it from www.wordpress.com and web developers who know what they are doing can build you widgets so you can customise things to suit your ends.

The downloadable version of WordPress is from WordPress.org while WordPress.com is where you get your hosted versions.

There are plenty of examples of Government using open source. The 10 Downing Street web site relies on it in parts for it’s press operation. So do almost half UK government departments in one shape or another. It’s great if you need an emergency website knocked up at short notice.

However, the feedback was that there was  a 500-page limit on WordPress. That’s probably more than enough for some sites but bigger projects may be hampered by that limitation.  

But how about the Birmingham City Council experience? (insert clap of thunder here.)

There has been plenty written about the Birmingham experience. But if you haven’t come across it it’s a tale to strike fear into local government web managers up and down the land.

In short, Birmingham City Council appointed consultants to build their website. The final bill was more than many expected and wasn’t as good as people were expecting. It led to Press criticism.

The Birmingham bloggers build a DIY site when they were less than impressed with the council version.

The Birmingham bloggers build a DIY site when they were less than impressed with the council version.

There is a thriving community of bloggers and the digitally-connected in Birmingham. They decided to build their own DIY council site by taking the data that was publicly available and constructin their own website.

Based on open source and while it may look rough at the edges, it is a site born of social media and built by community-spirited people eager to do their own thing. That it cooked a snook at authority to boot was for some a bonus.

They came up with something based on a postcode search and using stunning Flickr imagery of their home city.  

It’s legacy will be more than a website. It’s legacy is a warning shot that internet users have a powerful voice and if you don’t provide them with something they’luse and be impressed by, they may well build their own. As a warning shot to council it’s there to be heeded.

So, how about asking people what they think of your site?

I’m impressed with the Camden Council Facebook group set up to see what people thought of their site. An impressive use of social media. Bold, imaginative and connecting directly to the online community. Magnificent. And a template to follow.
 
 
In a nutshell: So what would NINE really good things to do be?
 

 
1 Use pictures better. Pictures tell a 1,000 words and are a brilliant way of showcasing your organisation. Not just the arty commissioned ones. The Flickr ones too.
 
2 Choose a way for people to navigate about the site. And stick to it.
 
3 Don’t make your site busy. It looks awful. Simplicity works.
 
4 Don’t get too hung up on the homepage. Remember that few people can get onto your site that way.
 
5 Speak to the people in the calls centre. What subjects come up most often?
Shouldn’t that play some role in what appears on the homepage? And be well designed and put together?
 
6 In an A-Z of services think Yellow Pages. Put links in several places. For example, people could be looking at household waste in several places. Waste, rubbish or even trash
 
7 And finally, wouldn’t it be good if SOCITM took more account of design and look? That way we may all have better websites.

8 Use social media to see what people think. Use Twitter and Facebook. If social media is about a two way conversation then what better way of connecting with web-savvy citizens? 

9 Don’t rule out open source. It’s free. And one day someone with vision will come up with something that government can use.
 
Input for the #ukgc10 ‘What makes an ace website?’session included points from Dan Harris, Ally Hook, Liz Azyan, Sarah Lay, Martin Black, Stephen Cross and Andrew Beeken.

Flickr pics used with creative commons licence laptop (Jason Santa Maria) and frustration (CCB Images).