Citizen Productivity at Building Perfect Council Websites Conference

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2009 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

Gerry McGovern gave a thought provoking talk at the recent Building Perfect Council Websites Conference. One particular phrase caught my attention “Improving citizen productivity”. This is the idea that council websites should be built so that the citizen, the major user, can be as productive as possible. The citizen should be able to go to the site and find what they are looking for, or do what they need (pay a bill, report a problem, apply for a service…), as quickly, easily and productively as possible.

We are all citizens and believe that the public sector is there to serve us so we will immediately endorse this concept. But do we recognise that the same should be true for any website? Is measuring stickiness (how long a visitor remains on a site) a good measure of the website? If we can redesign a site so an average visitor spends less time on the site, but still has done what they needed or found what they wanted, is that not an improvement? Visitor productivity should be a major measure of website performance.

During the conference there were a variety of examples of how to improve Citizen Productivity. John Fox, a member of the Socitm Better Connected Team, and Dane Wright of the London Borough of Brent, spoke on ‘Location, Location, Location’, how to use mapping technology to effectively improve user productivity. The key messages were:

  • Make it easy to find the mapping functions. Brent Council’s home page has a section called ‘Find Your Nearest’.
  • Make it easy to use. At Brent you choose the type of location (e.g. Library) and a post code and it will show a map of the locations and a list of locations with their name distance from the post code and a link to more details.
  • Integrate the function. There needs to be a link from the map to the page on the website with the details of the location, and also a link from the location page to a map.

This system provides a very productive visitor experience. I wanted to find my nearest library so all I had to do was: Google Brent Council, find the home page, fill in the Find Nearest form, choose the library I prefer, see the details, look at a detailed map of the area. Job done, well not quite, I now wanted to find out how to get there, easy just click on the Transport for London link on the library page and the job is really done.

Other suggestions for improving visitor productivity included:

  • Make search easy. Make it easy to find the search box, checking that relevant documents are in the top three positions (good titles and relevant words in the document are key).
  • Make the site navigation logical to the visitor, this may not be the same as the internal organisation structure.
  • Make forms quick and easy to complete. Automatic fill where possible, physical order of fields must be the logical order for the visitor, tab sequence must follow the physical order of fields, and the submit button must be in the tab sequence directly after the form fields and before the cancel or clear button.
  • Make sure that it is easy to link to relevant pages of your site. This is particularly important in the Public Sector where different services are provided by different organisations that are beginning to be connected in the UK via Directgov, NHS Choices and Businesslink.
  • Finally, but no means least, ensure that the site is accessible to people with disabilities so that they get the same productivity benefits (productivity is even more important to people with disabilities). The relevance of accessibility to local government was reflected in the exhibitors who provide direct accessibility support including BrowseAloud, eSSENTIAL Accessibility Inc., Magus, Shaw Trust and SiteImprove as well as built in accessibility functionality in many of the other products on display.

Having tried out Brent Council’s website to write this article I would like to congratulate them on a really clean and easy to use site which gave me a productive and stress free (I might even say enjoyable) visit.

I only have one suggestion for improvement to the Brent site and that is they need an ‘About Us’ page and a link to it from the home page. The reason I think this is important is that in an ever increasingly interconnected internet people will arrive on the website from many different paths. When that happens the visitor needs to be able to quickly answer the question what is Brent (the logo at top left does not even say London Borough of Brent)?

Look at Brent,, and ask yourself, does my website provide as good a visitor experience with as good visitor productivity; when they leave your site will the visitor feel that they have done what they wanted with the minimum effort and hassle.

Visitor Productivity is my new mantra.

I am looking forward to next years Building Perfect Council Websites Conference, 14 July 2010.