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Towards the digital council: Socitm marks progress in new briefing

Towards the digital council: progress report, aimed at top management in local authorities, looks at key aspects of digital progress, including the performance of council websites, access to services from mobiles, engagement with stakeholders via customer accounts and social media, and approaches to digital strategy and management.

The 16pp document begins by reminding readers of the Do you Digital? test Socitm published last year, that helps council managers assess the digital commitment of their organisation as well as its capacity to deliver digital transformation. It then highlights recent research by Socitm that provides objective answers to how far councils individually and collectively have advanced over the last 12 months.

Socitm’s new web management survey, highlights of which are published in Better connected 2015, is described in the briefing. It provides information on many questions in the Do you do digital? test, including aspects of web and digital governance, strategy and policy, content management, performance and usage measurement, resources and budgets.

Also covered are results from Socitm’s digital engagement survey, that explores use by councils of a range of means of interacting digitally with customers, including customer accounts (for transacting online where customers need to identify themselves), email alerts for news and services, and social media channels. The survey also tests councils’ promotion of digital engagement to customers and other external stakeholders, including whether automated messages on the council main number promote the website. Overall, the results for digital engagement itself are significantly better than in 2014, although 1 in 5 councils still do not promote their website through their out-of-hours message.

Based on the main survey carried out for Better connected, which explores the ability of websites to provide quick and easy ‘customer journeys’ and successful resolution of a series of ‘top tasks’ that most visitors to council websites want to do, progress on digital delivery has been slow. In fact, says the briefing, the performance of council websites has made only marginal progress over the past two years, particularly as they have struggled to accommodate visitors’ growing preference to access them from mobile devices.

The use of mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets, to access online information is rapidly catching up with traditional access from desktops and laptops, says the briefing. Information from Socitm’s Website performance service indicates that, by the end of 2014, 42% of visits to council websites were made on mobile devices (tablets as well as smartphones) and this continues to rise steadily.

However, Better connected reviewers found that the mobile experience is generally 25% worse than the desktop experience. ‘Responsive design’, where site presentation responds appropriately to different web browser widths, probably the best default solution for council websites, has now been implemented by nearly half of all councils, up from 26% in 2014.

One of the most surprising findings of Socitm digital research published in the briefing is that redesigning the council website is far from a guaranteed route to improving the customer experience.

Better connected 2015 scrutinised the performance of council websites that had been redesigned between April and October 2014. The results were surprising: while 22 sites (one third of those redesigned) improved their Better connected ranking or retained their (maximum) four stars, 30 sites, or about one half, did not improve or progress beyond a below par two or one star ranking.

Towards the digital council: progress report is available free of charge to Socitm Insight subscribers and Socitm corporate members and costs £50 +VAT to others. The document can be downloaded or ordered from socitm.net.

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