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Councils should concentrate on providing data, not services on their websites.
July 8, 2008, 11:45 am
Filed under: opinion | Tags: , , ,

Every morning I wait for the bus to work next to an overgrown field, a few weeks ago I spotted that someone had dumped about 10 beer kegs over the wall, so when I got to work, I used FixMyStreet to report the problem to my council. What follows is an except from an email I got from Sheffield Council:

"Please note that we are aware that Fix my street 
have been having technical problems and that we 
may have received your e-mail late, you may wish 
to consider contacting the Council direct in the 
future by visiting http://www.sheffield.gov.uk 
and using the A-Z of services to find the service 
you need."

The problem with that is, I don’t know what service I need, and going to the A-Z of services presents me with a list of letters, whereas FixMyStreet just lets me click on a map where the problem is, enter a few details, and then they handle the rest.

Services like FixMyStreet are invaluable because they provide a really easy interface to council services, whereas council portals must provide all information to all of it’s residents, and as a former employee of Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council’s IT team, I know exactly how hard that is.

Some would argue that it is the councils job to provide services like FixMyStreet, but I would say that the council should concentrate on making the information they posses as accessible as possible, in formats that make it easy for other people to provide services like FixMyStreet.

A councils website is a massive undertaking, managing even the smallest councils web presence is a full time job for a team, and there simply isn’t the time in their schedule to develop tools like FixMyStreet, however other interested parties should be allowed access to the kind of data that councils hold, and they should be allowed to build services on top of that information.

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4 Comments so far
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I fully agree. Have just spent quite a bit of time wading through several council websites’ A-Z to find the data on youth activities for our Plings project, this is a long overdue process.

The “issue” I see however – is how will the average local authority web team get authorisation and time to write an API?

Comment by Stevieflow

Local government doesn’t seem to have much problem splashing out massive amounts of cash on outdated software that’s not up to the task (I know, I used to support the dross), so it’s not too big a leap of imagination to see them spending some of that cash with local firms who have the expertise in this area.

A lot of the data is there, it just needs exposing properly.

Comment by Stuart Grimshaw

[…] to say about the state of travel information online, and regular readers will know what I think the solution is. So when I heard that a company in the North West had been awarded a contract to overhaul […]

Pingback by South Yorkshire Transport website to get an overhaul « Stubblog

[…] As I’ve said in the past, government should concentrate on providing data and let it’s citizens build the sites they want out of that. […]

Pingback by Government needs to stop wasting money on big IT projects. « Stubblog




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