I’ll give it…

socitm-stars

“Better Connected” is an annual survey of council websites run by the Society of IT Managers (Socitm). Socitm published the 2015-2016 results at the end of May.

For 2015-2016, Wycombe DC scored 2 stars out of 4.

You can read the headline results at Better Connected.

The score reflects the old website which delivered a very poor mobile experience. We scored 1 star in 2015 with much the same design, navigation and content.

Better Connected uses a series of pre-selected common tasks with high customer demand. The Socitm reviewer grades the services based upon how easy it is to find and complete the task.

For 2015-2016, the tasks and our scores were:

  • Object to a planning application: 1 star
  • Report missed bin: 1 stars
  • Pay Council Tax: 4 stars
  • Register a food business: 3 stars
  • Navigation, Search, A-Z: 4 stars
  • Usability from mobile device: 0 stars (not reviewed, no mobile site)
  • Access for people with disabilities: 2 (pass)

Better Connected reflects the view of one reviewer though the scores are cross-checked. The BC reviewer comments help us in our ongoing review. We’ve also carried out our own user testing programme and we are planning a regular ongoing testing programme to improve our site.

We strive to make our work evidence based. So, all input is helpful.

Rocketry for beginners

I had the pleasure of giving a presentation yesterday at Zengenti’s annual Rocket conference in Birmingham: a case study on web design using professional services. My talk followed a very professional video, probably showing up my lack of design chops.

Anyway, here’s the slides from my talk. The slides are mostly visual clues, but you can click on the gear button to get my speaking notes.

Alternatively, check out the slides on Google Drive.

The event was filmed so there may be other evidence available shortly!

All views expressed in the presentation are my own and not necessarily those of Wycombe District Council.

Thanks to Toki and Zengenti for inviting me to speak.

For data to be useful it has to be useable

open-data-(scrabble)-flickr-credit-justin-grimesLocal authorities collect huge amounts of information – held in datasets – ranging from spending, to staff, to the services that they provide.  These datasets can be very valuable in creating efficient and effective public services, but to be used successfully the information must be ‘open’ – data that anyone can access, use and share – and published in a consistent way.

Publishing this data in a standard format not only increases transparency and accountability of the bodies that hold it, it also ensures the information can be compared and combined. This means organisations can work together to provide better services, councils can work  to make savings and the public can access targeted support that directly meets their needs.

What are we doing?

mitie-data-centre-flickr-credit-ed-robinson-oneredeye

As part of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) improvement programme to help promote the better use of data across local government, Wycombe District Council has been asked to talk about inventories and publishing data at the “Making standards work” conference in Manchester on May 4.

We have asked to be involved as we are already successfully using schemas (standard formats used by local government to publish open data) that have developed by the local government open data programme. An inventory simply details the open datasets (schema) that are published by a council.

Our work using standards has also been recognised by the Open Data Institute who, together with the LGA, has developed some learning modules about publishing open data. We feature as a case example in module two,  Making publishing work for you

We believe that using these publishing standards and inventories brings many benefits and makes us a transparent and accountable council that can readily respond to our residents’ needs by using information we already hold. With the launch of our new website, we hope to be able to publish even more of our data online.

Photo credit

Open data (scrabble) by Justin Grimes from Flickr used under a Creative Commons License

The Mitie Data Centre  by  Ed Robinson/OneRedEye from Flickr used under a Creative Commons License

Test drive

web-devicesToday we released our new website to see how well it runs out on the public web. As a Beta site, some parts may not be quite right, but by gathering user comments and performance data in a real world environment, we can fix and improve as we go. This continues the ‘working out loud’ approach we’ve tried to follow throughout the project.

What’s new?

Our Beta site is powered by Contensis, a content management system from Zengenti, our partners on the project. The system provides us with a technology upgrade for more stable and flexible digital services.

There’s a new look and feel, designed to provide a consistent user experience across a range of devices, with more whitespace to help readability and navigation. The design has been tested throughly to help us meet AA accessibility standards.

We’ve introduced a leaner information architecture, built with the help of user card-sorting sessions, to ease navigation and improve search performance. And we’re optimising content to boost performance of the on board ‘predictive’ search engine.

Navigation is provided by a dynamic homepage menu, focusing on most popular tasks, while also providing quicker access to all services. A breadcrumb provides access into this menu from across the site. We’ve unashamedly drawn on the work of GOV.UK and Nottinghamshire for this navigation design.

What’s next?

We did research into user behaviour, including a residents’ survey, usability testing and workshops to identify the most popular services for website visitors and applied that learning to our development work.

Next we’re checking responsiveness of the site across desktop, laptop, tablet and mobile devices and we’re getting residents and councillors to help us test user journeys before we declare the site ready to go live.

We’ll be testing in Beta mode for the next few weeks. If you spot anything that doesn’t work, or have any comments or suggestions, please let us know via the site, here on our blog or on Twitter @wycombedigital.

Setting a standard

cadm8wowiae5wzaEarlier this month, we participated in workshops at the Government Digital Service (GDS) in London, looking at digital standards for local government. Phil Rumens, from West Berkshire Council, is coordinating this effort for Localgov Digital, a network for digital practitioners in local government.

dbd-kitemark

The government has a Digital Service Standard to ensure teams build high quality services for GOV.UK. Use of this standard and their design manual has resulted in a growing number of exemplars and other services with very high performance ratings. Phil’s idea seems to be that local government should aim for similar success – and we agree.

We think a Local Government Digital Standard could offer local and collective benefits, including:

  • setting a kind of template for ongoing improvement
  • emphasising user needs to help get public services right
  • encouraging the market to better serve these needs when supplying councils
  • contributing to savings as a result of better performing council services
  • more knowledge sharing, particularly to help struggling digital teams
  • boosting awareness of the need for improving digital skills

Our neighbours and partners at Buckinghamshire County Council have adopted the government service standard for their digital services, and we’re following their progress with interest. As a smaller authority, with a smaller team, we can find the resourcing of development a challenge, but we aspire to the standard by focusing on users, iterating and working openly as much as we can.

wycombe-gov-uk

We aim to start adopting parts of the standard around the release of our site improvements this spring, including usability testing with local councillors, which we’ll be doing in the next couple of weeks. And we’re ‘working out loud’ on this project, using this blog, Trello, Twitter and Yammer to share our experiences. We’ll be releasing the site in Beta from mid-March.

We encourage anyone involved in local digital services to support the development of a standard for local government, not least because it’ll make our job easier! Get in touch with Localgov Digital now to join the group.

[Featured images: Event photo by Phil Rumens from LocalGov Digital and Digital by Default graphic from GOV.UK. Images are for illustration and reference only, no association is implied.]

The post Christmas spike

the-day-after-christmas

Web statistics sometimes throw up some intriguing little nuggets of information.

A couple of years ago, when working at a different local authority, I noticed a sharp spike in web traffic after Christmas day. The Christmas period that year coincided with a bad flooding event. My initial thought was everyone rushing to their desktop to read our updates.

In fact, looking at the data, it was clear that a major contributory factor in the spike was a big jump in mobile traffic. Back then, distinguishing between mobile and tablet traffic using Google analytics wasn’t as easy as it is now. But, digging through the stats, it looked as though many residents were trying out their shiny new tablets on Boxing Day.

There was a similar pattern this past post-Christmas in Wycombe.

The following graphs shows web visits over the December period. After Christmas, traffic spikes; both mobile and tablet visitors match or exceed desktop visitors.visits

visits-by-device

Tablets are not the novelty they were a couple of years ago. At an educated guess, what we’re seeing is residents sitting at home – possibly recumbent on the sofa – checking out the council website.

And what are they looking at?

On a normal day, planning, bins, car parks and leisure centres are the popular topics. After Christmas, the bin numbers go through the roof. Take a look at 29 December. The main bin page had 22% of all mobile page views; nearly 19% on tablets. That compares with 4% of all views over all devices throughout 2015.

Page title 29 December mobile page views % of total
Waste and Recycling 605 22.22%
Bin Collections 307 11.27%
Wycombe District Council (WDC) Home page 264 9.70%
Contact us 114 4.19%
Xmas bin collections 109 4.00%
Leisure centres and pools 100 3.67%
Bin updates 66 2.42%
Car parks in High Wycombe 54 1.98%
Christmas and New year hours 53 1.95%
Household waste – what goes in my bin 36 1.32%
Page title 29 December tablet page views % of total
Waste and Recycling 409 18.75%
Bin Collections 280 12.84%
Wycombe District Council (WDC) Home page 234 10.73%
Xmas bin collections 128 5.87%
Bin updates 94 4.31%
View planning applications 58 2.66%
Car parks in High Wycombe 46 2.11%
Council services 45 2.06%
Christmas and New year hours 36 1.65%
Handy Cross Hub redevelopment 26 1.19%
Page title 2015 total page views % of total
Wycombe District Council (WDC) Home page 273566 11.43%
View planning applications 140848 5.89%
Waste and Recycling 102273 4.27%
Contact us 79648 3.33%
Council services 74865 3.13%
Planning and buildings 57132 2.39%
Planning applications and appeals 38374 1.60%
Car parks in High Wycombe 38074 1.59%
How to pay your council tax 37146 1.55%
Leisure centres and pools 34911 1.46%

So, the evidence says:

  • people use tablets and mobiles during the leisure time
  • bin calendar or not, residents rely on our website to find out bin collection days during holidays

Which means:

  • mobile responsive essential
  • make sure all content, not least the web bin calendar, is up to date especially during holidays

Also:

  • the mince pies were good
  • and so was the new tablet Christmas present

See all the data in the Xmas spike Google sheet

Photo credit

The Day After Christmas by David Sterrenburg from Flickr used under a Creative Commons licence

 

Designing for accessibility

Assistive technology device - at the Shaw Trust, 2009

Adapted keyboard at Shaw Trust

Accessibility is an essential part of our web project.

An accessible website is both a legal and moral obligation. Equally, it makes business sense to ensure that services and information are accessible to all.

We’re working closely with Zengenti to ensure that our new site meets or exceeds the standard set by our current site.

Legal requirements

The legal basis for providing an accessible website is the Equalities Act 2010.

Section 29 covers the requirement upon an “information service provider”:

“A person … concerned with the provision of a service to the public or a section of the public (for payment or not) must not discriminate against a person requiring the service by not providing the person with the service.”

On the face of it, there’s no of mention accessibility, websites or technology, for that matter. It’s the “provision of a service” and “discriminate against” that are the key phrases.

Section 20 introduces the concept of accessibility. :

“[In relation to]…the provision of information, the steps which it is reasonable for [an information service provider] to have to take include steps for ensuring that in the circumstances concerned the information is provided in an accessible format.”

Web standards

What level of accessibility is required is a bit vague and can probably only be determined by case law, of which there is very little.

There is, however, a range of standards available. Complying with standards can demonstrate understanding of needs and application of techniques.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which “runs” the web, has dealt with web accessibility in great depth. The standards are set out in Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The latest standard, WCAG 2.0, was published in 2008 and it is the standard to which we aspire.

WCAG has three “conformance levels” which correlate to the difficulty levels for users: A, AA and AAA. In common with most public sector websites, we aim for level AA. It’s rare to see a website that is AAA – the highest level.

You can read more about WCAG at Out-Law or check the standards and checkpoints used in assessments at W3C web accessibility initiative (WAI).

“Best efforts”

You will often here web people talk about making best efforts to meet standards or legal requirements.

Out-Law recommends:

“The best way to satisfy the legal requirement is to have your website tested by disabled users. This should ideally be done through allowing your website to be tested by a group of users with different disabilities, such as motor and cognitive disabilities, blindness and other forms of visual impairment.”

That’s what we do.

Testing

We’ve used external testers on several occasions to ensure that our site meets WCAG standards. We last tested back in mid-2014, so we’re due another round of testing.

Over the end of year period, the Digital Accessibility Centre (DAC) team will test the new website templates against WCAG 2.0 AA conformity. DAC is one of several consultancies currently offering live user testing.

Of course, we (and the development team) could (and do) use some of the many online tools that check code and markup. Valid HTML, CSS and Javascript will put you on the right road to a properly functioning website. Other tools cover colour contrast, functionality and fiddly things like tables and forms.

But, accessibility can only properly be tested by real people using a wide range of assistive technologies. For us, it is an essential investment not only for legal reasons.

The common perception is that accessibility is about designing the website so that blind people can “see it”. However, over 10 million people in the UK are thought to have some range of disability.

There is a wide range of impairments that need to be catered for: visual (8% of men have some form of colour blindness), aural, motor and cognitive.

User testing can cover all of these.

ConeMosaics.jpg

[Illustration of the distribution of cone cells in the fovea of an individual with normal color vision (left), and a color blind (protanopic) retina. The center of the fovea holds very few blue-sensitive cones.]

Accessibility and usability

Accessibility is not just about code. Usability is as much, if not more, an issue for disabled users. A website designed around the needs of the disabled is of benefit to the needs of everyone.

As part of our web author training, we cover content accessibility and usability. We might cover this in a later post, but our focus is on:

  • correctly outlined markup using headings, bulleted lists and so on
  • plain English using concise, everyday language
  • descriptive link text
  • short, descriptive “alternate” tags for non-decorative images
  • text description of both the audio and visual content within videos
  • avoiding tables except for data
  • avoid using pdfs and other non-web documents or provide an HTML equivalent

We’ll be re-emphasizing good practice as part of our governance work and future web training.

Accessibility for all

Legal requirements aside, an accessible website meets our moral obligation to promote social inclusion. Also, you may have noticed that we mentioned a “business reason” to have an accessible website. Having an accessible website, makes it easier for all to be able to access self-service.

We’re working for a website accessible for all.

Accessibility award for Wycombe DC in 2011

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Image credits

Other resources