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Council web survey shows commitment to boosting local fitness - but message delivery needs streamlining

The latest survey of local authority website performance conducted by Socitm’s Better Connected research programme shows commitment to supporting local populations to get fit, but some confused and confusing message delivery.

The latest ‘task’ to be tested by the review team explored how easy it is to find out about keeping fit in local areas run by 22 Welsh unitary councils, 36 metropolitan districts, and the 11 Northern Ireland district councils.

Around 6% of all visits to council websites are for leisure services, including sports facilities and exercise classes run by or contracted out by local councils.

72% of councils tested provide a good or very good service on their website for people trying to find out about keeping fit. In Wales, the figure is 91%, an outstanding result, and in Northern Ireland, 73%. The English metropolitan districts tested lag behind a bit on 63%.

In metropolitan districts, the survey found that Google searches on fitness or exercise often led to results relevant to initiatives linked to councils’ public health programmes, where free exercise might offered based on referral from a GP. This development is clearly linked to the return of public health responsibilities to ‘upper tier’ local authorities in England in 2013, and the requirements in the Care Act them to manage the wider health and social care needs of the whole population.

However, getting results like these from their searches may confuse people seeking classes operating on a regular basis for the general public, and reviewers generally found public health messaging not to be well integrated with the leisure sections of websites.

As the reviewer commented on one low-scoring site: ‘The public health section is informative and encouraging but needs more integration with the main site. Taking the routes in the survey gave access only to the public health aspect of fitness, encouraging activity but not directly linking to any details of what is available.’

Lack of integration with the main council pages and a poorer customer experience also occurs where the council has contracted out or completely outsourced its provision of leisure and sports facilities.

Sites that retain leisure information on their own pages, rather than just sending visitors off to an external partner website, tend to offer a simpler and more customer friendly user experience.

Some of the external sites linked from individual councils cover various different parts of the UK. This doesn't always serve people looking for local information particularly well. Commercial sites can also be overrun with adverts for gym membership and offers that are distracting.

Too many councils continue to display sports or exercise class listings as pdfs not optimised for use on screen, something that is particularly inconvenient to mobile users, who account for a much larger proportion of visits for ‘leisure’ than do desktop users.

Websites recommended by reviewers for this task include those provided by: Bury, Denbighshire CC, Gateshead MBC, Gwynedd Council, Leeds City Council, South Tyneside, and Trafford Council.

The survey report is free to view at https://betterconnected.socitm.net/services/leisure-facilities/find-out-about-keeping-fit/2015-2016

Further information

Web and digital professionals interested in hearing more about the findings of the Better Connected surveys as well as wider trends and best practice in local authority web development, should sign up for the Learning from Better Connected event on May 25th in Birmingham.

This is part of Better Connected Live, a major new two-day event that will place the Better Connected research in the context digital councils, austerity and devolution.

The headline conference Digital, devolution and the re-invention of local public servicesfeaturing presentations from a series of local authority chief executives and CIOs, as well as leading practitioners in digital transformation, will take place on May 24.

A series of events for service managers will take place across the two days, involving adult social care (in partnership with ADASS Informatics Network); planning (in partnership with the Planning Portal; waste management (in partnership with the Institution of Wastes Management); and libraries (in partnership with the Society of Chief Librarians).

A series of Better Connected awards will also be presented at Better Connected Live.

Notes for editors

All councils can access headline results from Better Connected surveys, but details of individual council reviews are available to Socitm Insight subscribers only (around 75% of all councils).

Any employee of a Socitm Insight subscribing council can register for free with Socitm.net and then get access to the detailed results for their council.

Further information

Vicky Sargent, Director, Better Connected programme

Email: vicky.sargent@socitm.net