Research & improvement

Better Connected

Overview

This is our 17th annual survey of all 407 local authority websites (excluding Northern Ireland before its reorganisation for April 2015).  A team of reviewers carried out a structured survey with 317 questions for local authority websites, followed by two shorter surveys on specific topics. This research has been supplemented by five additional sets of data, supplied by our partner organisations.

The report covers surveys carried out on 32 other public service websites belonging to Socitm Insight subscribers.

We published our full 2015 report (264 pages) on 2 March 2015.

  • The report and all supporting spreadsheets are freely available to all Socitm Insight subscribers. However, councils are only named in the results if, as at 24 February, they subscribe to Socitm Insight (or pre-ordered a copy of the report).
  • Non-subscribers who buy the report do not have access to the supporting spreadsheets. 
  • There is limited information available to those who do not subscribe or buy a copy of the report. This includes a two page briefing for chief executives and senior managers.

In keeping with the policy of open data, we publish the headline results of our assessments (Appendix 1) as open data on the Socitm website and make them available for re-use (non-commercially).

To download the publicly available information join the Socitm Open Group and check out the Better connected folder.

Latest news

This new partnership will focus initially on development of Better connected, the Socitm research service that evaluates the customer experience of local public service websites and related digital activity.

1. Background

Better connected has been running since 1999 and in March 2015 published its 17th annual edition. Its main purpose is to identify best practice and so help councils in improving the quality of the online experience for the millions of people who now visit council websites for obtaining information and receiving services.

Many web teams use the report as the basis for their improvement plans. Delivering a high quality online experience is critical for councils to achieve plans for digital transformation of their services, now seen by most councils as essential for living with austerity.

Well established as one of the most valuable sources of information and advice on ‘local digital’, Better connected has until now relied on spreadsheets for data collection and on traditional publishing methods (including once-a-year publication of a 200+ page pdf report) for disseminating results.

Socitm’s partnership with Boilerhouse will enable development of a digital platform for the service and changes in presentation of the research results.  Other key aims are to:

  • overcome the misconception that Better connected is ‘just about ‘websites’
  • engage service managers more fully with their role in delivering quality digital experiences.

2. Key principles informing the changes to Better connected

  • All aspects of the Better connected survey and reporting operation will become fully digital. This will be based on a new digital platform, which subscribers and others can all engage with.
  • The data collection from surveys and reviews will be online with automated validation.
  • All results will be published online, supported by reports that can be downloaded and shared (eg executive summaries for management teams).
  • The core methodology for assessing the online experience will not change.
  • Better connected will continue to review all UK local authority websites, regardless of whether they subscribe to the service.
  • Surveys about the performance of different service areas online will be reported over the year rather than being combined into a ‘once a year’ report. 
  • There will continue to be an annual report on corporate customer digital performance. 
  • There will be greater emphasis on digital engagement and web management.
  • Accessibility reviews will continue to be a part of the ‘star ranking’ of websites.
  • Every council will have their own Better connected report page on the digital platform, with some data free to view and other data behind a subscriber login.
  • The digital platform will provide interactive facilities for forums, blogs and social media.
  • Commentary on developments in the wider digital landscape for local public services will feature on the platform.

Summary of changes

Feature  Old style New style 
Context  Websites  The digital experience
Data collection  Spreadsheets  Online direct into the system
Data analysis  Spreadsheets  Online with automated analysis of results
Publishing  200+ page report   Online with results customised per council, per service area
Contextual information  Limited  Extensive including open data
Annual process  One major publication on 1 March  Monthly publishing culminating in corporate results in Spring
Assessment focus  Corporate website   Service area and corporate digital
Methodology  Top tasks  Top tasks supplemented by other surveys
Ranking  Corporate website  Service area and corporate website
Audience  Focus mainly on corporate web manager  Wide range of service and corporate managers, including the top team. Line of business software and digital services suppliers.
Engagement  Passive  Interactive

Further information will be shared during June to August as these outline changes develop. 

Opportunity to comment and discuss in Web Improvement and Usage Community.

Details

Outputs/deliverables

This is our 17th annual survey of all local authority websites (plus others belonging to Socitm Insight subscribers in the public sector). In total, 439 websites have been examined. A team of reviewers carried out a structured survey with up to eight common tasks assessed (depending on type of council) plus a general assessment of both the mobile and the desktop experience. This has been followed by two shorter surveys on specific topics. This research has been supplemented by four additional sets of data, supplied by our partner organisations.

Part A: The present - this year's results

Section 1 - Overview of this year’s results 

We provide the national picture in terms of overall rankings using our star system for ranking sites (one star to four stars), which has now fully integrated access by mobile devices. This is followed by our Top 20, our analysis by type of council, our view of improvement trends, common reviewer niggles and, finally, an examination of some of our favourite sites.

Section 2 - This year’s results – top tasks

We examine in detail customer journeys for 15 tasks, four of which are accessed by mobile devices, which are likely to be top tasks for most council websites. From this group we select up to eight tasks for each council, including two for access from mobile devices. For each journey we concentrate on finding and completing the task, citing what makes for good and poor practice and recommending exemplars. 

Section 3 - This year’s results – the mobile experience

Testing the mobile experience is now fully integrated in the overall assessment. We assess council websites from a mobile device as well as from the desktop or laptop.  To do this, we use a smartphone to carry out an assessment of the mobile experience and then test two specific tasks (already analysed in the previous section). As for the main survey we identify good and poor practice and recommend examples of good practice. 

Section 4 - This year’s results – usability 

The customer journey for each task is all-important. We focus on the mechanisms for making this journey as quick and as smooth as possible.  Navigation for tasks is fundamental to making a site easy to use. We analyse what you should and should not do. We continue with all the supporting navigational aids, such as the use of search, A to Z index, accessibility and resilience. 

Section 5 - This year’s results – usage 

Our report so far has focused on the supply side, ie how well the website meets customer needs. We now switch to the demand side and focus on actual and potential usage, highlighting trends in take-up and visitor feedback. We provide the latest information about internet access, visitor usage and satisfaction and report the results of a special survey looking at how well councils promote digital engagement.

Part B: The future - issues to face

Section 6 - Agenda for digital change

The formation of a new government offers some time to reflect on a new approach to digital delivery, and, as an essential part of that, better self-service from council websites. Continued public austerity and health and social care reforms are likely to be with us for the foreseeable future. We provide a very good example of the type of national blueprint for action that is urgently required. However, councils should start to think of what they can do now to improve the quality of the online experience.         

Section 7 - Web management practices

For the first time in the history of Better connected, we investigate what goes on behind the scenes in managing the online experience in order to help councils improve it. We report on the results of a survey of the teams responsible for managing the web in UK local government. The survey covers governance, strategy and policy, management of content, performance, usage, resources and budgets.

Section 8 - New sites in 2014

Having the opportunity to design a new site might be seen as a luxury in the current financial climate.  We have identified 63 councils that had this opportunity in 2014, but their success has been patchy. It is critical to understand why a new site is needed and, if necessary, carry out a root and branch review.  We focus on one leading council who benefited from such an approach. 

Section 9 - Conclusions

Purchase

Better Connected is currently only available as part of Socitm Insight

 

Find out more

Socitm Insight

Subscribers can download the summary of the results of the main survey, which also contain detailed analysis of every topic and theme in the survey. They can also download all supporting material as follows:

  • A 'pdf' version is available of the main report, fully bookmarked
  • A two-page briefing for chief executives and senior managers (a fuller briefing will be produced by Easter)
  • An index of all council references as examples of good practice and entries in top lists, etc
  • The accessibility results from DAC
  • The results from a supporting survey on digital engagement
  • The results from a supporting survey on out-of-hours telephone messages 
  • A summary of Sitemorse results on technical performance
  • Results from Local Direct for broken links
  • A summary of Experian Hitwise results on market share of take-up
  • Results of survey from rest of public sector of other organisations who subscribe to Socitm Insight

Finally as last year we have provided for each subscribing local authority an individual ‘Your council’ spreadsheet that shows the answers to each question in the main survey, alongside the questions and the guidance notes that each reviewer had available during the survey. This should make it much easier to understand the results. Note: this spreadsheet does not contain any post-review analysis, eg the star ranking, whether the task was successful (which are in the main survey results), but contains purely the results as they were completed by the reviewer at the time of the survey.

Results from the survey of web management practices are only available to those who completed the survey and they will be issued by email shortly after the launch of the report.

Insight subscribers receive the material free of charge. You will only be able to access Better connected 2015 if your organisation has renewed its Socitm Insight subscription and you are personally registered on the Socitm website.

You can check that your organisation has paid by going to the list of up-to-date Socitm Insight subscribers.