It’s the oddest thing but above all of the well-resourced institutions in Ireland the websites facing the greatest challenges belong to local councils. When I say challenges I mean it as a measurement of the website’s ability to allow the citizen to accomplish the task they came to the website to complete.

Most council websites just dispense information and give priority to what the council feels is important to communicate, not what the citizen came to the website to do. The council wants to talk about Governance and provide minutes of council meetings. The citizen wants to book a spin class at the local recreation centre, renew a dog license online or order a replacement bin.

Councils have lots of websites, tens of them in fact, many of which are competing with each other. This happens because different departments are given silos of funding that all include a requirement to “communicate better with the citizen” and the result is yet another collection of webpages extolling the internal needs of that department.

Run a thought experiment for me: compare if you will, the council website with a public swimming pool. Imagine what would happen if the auditors walked into the swimming pool and found no tiles in the pool, no water, faulty showers and no doors on the changing rooms. Would the auditor sign the project off? Yet flawed council websites costing tens of thousands of pounds/euro are being signed off.

It’s easier for a council to spend time and money on a poor website and gain approval, than any other public facing service. No one is held to account for a council website’s inability to complete citizen tasks or poor use of language, yet lots of table banging and questions would be asked by angry councilors if the same thing happened at the swimming pool.

The challenge for marketers in councils runs deep. The marketers know what needs to be done but implementing dog licensing online requires job displacement offline. Implementing online booking of spin classes means Florence no longer needs to answer the phone in the leisure centre and take names. The solution on the surface may seem simple; the reality is that marketers can do nothing without top management support for cultural change.

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