The Curious Incident of the Local Authority Archaeology Website: Response from Sandwell

21 Jun

A few days ago I wrote a blog on the changes to Sandwell MBC’s website and their removal from it of nearly all information relating to archaeology in the area. Yesterday, in several tweets, Sandwell kindly responded. I thought it seemed only fair to incorporate these into an updated blog and provide their side of the story. I’ve added my own additional questions and comments beneath each tweet.

I’m sure you are correct. Then again, it’s an easy deletion to make when you’ve made redundant everyone who could present the case for retention.

 

I saw, and I have to say the new background colour is simply to die for, dahling.

 

A few points here:

1) Why 1000+ views? Why not 900 or 1100? How and why did you decide this was the magic cut off number? Did you just look at unique visitor numbers, if so why did you not also examine bounce rates, dwell time etc.?

2) I assume ‘task-orientated’ includes activities similar to those used by The Society for Information Technology Managers (SOCITM) in their annual ‘Better connected‘ assessment of local authority websites? I can see the attraction of using a clearly defined list composed of  ‘dispose of old bed’, ‘find out about my councillor‘ or ‘object to a  planning application‘ &c.. We all seek this information from time to time and benchmarking performance becomes comparatively easy when relying solely on them (by the way, congratulations on increasing from a 2 to 3* rating in the 2013 Better Connected survey) . Do you not feel, however, that local government can and should aspire to more? I think this article over on the Guardian Professionals Local Government Network articulates what I want to say best:

“Over the last few years, local government website management has been about simplification and ease of use: strip out content and focus on delivering a few key, highly standardised services well. Visitors with simple, standard requirements often now enjoy a rapid in and out visit.

The problem is that only about 15% of visitors seem to fall within the so-called simple, clear, standard need group.”

3) I’m not sure that Gov.uk is neccesarily the most relevant example here for two reasons. Firstly, many of the changes were related t0 the change in government. A lot of pre-Coalition web material was indeed removed. It was also proactively archived, a distinct contrast to Sandwell’s approach. Secondly, Gov.uk serves a very different purpose to a local authority website. This was recognised by SOCITM in their response to the Government Digital Strategy:

 “central government departments individually deliver relatively few services, and these tend to be in a single line of business with very high volumes (eg car tax). Single-tier local authorities by contrast deliver more than 700 services, most of which are low volume.”

Your tweet suggests you are following a high volume approach better suited to a central government agency than a local authority. Why?

 

Yeah I know, I was being a bit facetious (although I have to ask why it wasn’t possible to add some HTTP 3xx status code to redirect anyone using old links to the most relevant replacement?).

I would like to point out that I didn’t solely rely on the old links, but did search your website in some detail. Not much to find…

 

More than half who did view it couldn’t find the information they were expecting? Suggests that slightly under half were finding the information they were looking for. I’m intrigued to know if you investigated the possibility of improving the information provided to better serve visitors, or was deletion the only option?

How do the satisfaction ratings compare for the new page?

 

Yes I know. I mentioned all eight sentences of it in my blog.

 

Thank you for taking the time to respond and pass on my comments.

Written by +Matt Nicholas

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