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No game changer, but new council website is job well done

No game changer, but new council website is job well done

🕔01.Sep 2016

Whisper it, but the @BhamCityCouncil website has just taken a very welcome step forward” tweeted Claire Spencer, Labour Co-Op Cllr for Moseley & King’s Heath, last Wednesday. Here, Hannah Green of Urban Communications wants to shout up for the new site. 

It may have gone unnoticed to some, but last week saw the ‘soft launch’ of a new website for Birmingham City Council. City councils, and indeed many other public services, are notoriously behind-the-times when it comes to digital communications, with many such websites appearing as dull, outdated wastelands.

Chief Blogger Paul Dales sets out the context to the latest site re-design here. 

The sector is gradually moving forwards, with talented teams of tweeters and digital content creators greatly improving upon this reputation in government, councils and other public bodies. To be fair to Birmingham city council itself, it’s Newsroom site and much of its social media practice is to be applauded.

What we like: purpose reigns supreme

Birmingham-City-Council-Website

It appears the initial research completed for the council, including current usage trends of the existing site and layout of neighbouring and other UK council sites, revealed the overall functional purpose of council site visits.

Is it a local newsroom? No, there are local papers and (ahem) blogs for that. Is it a platform to promote local business and events? No, it’s a public service site.

Should it be an online information centre, providing easy access to council services, official contact and complaint forms, a more modern way to complete tasks as a Birmingham citizen, whilst also offering the additional leisure and culture information residents may be looking for? YES.

The new site does just this; it’s functional, practical and in many instances, gets the job done.

Simplicity is bliss

In a similar vein, navigating the new Birmingham city council homepage is a simple task, allowing one to ‘get the job done’ very quickly. All content is neatly laid out, in clear legible font with little room for confusion. Useful citizen information, such as school term dates and an entire catalogue of councillors, is within three clicks away from the homepage.

A refreshed look & feel

What a transformation. Birmingham has awoken from its digitally-dormant cocoon into a beautiful, albeit a slightly basic block colour scheme, online butterfly.

Alongside other surprisingly full UK council sites (Manchester, Leeds, Edinburgh) and local Midlands sites (Coventry, Nottingham, Wolverhampton), it’s a refreshing visit. One could even suggest it’s a reflection on how vibrant, “lively and diverse” the city is said to be, echoed by the most recent cultural homage to Birmingham featured in The Spectator.

It’s also fully optimized meaning it supposedly works seamlessly on mobile and other devices, without the need to zoom etc. Great news – one can now swiftly order a bulky waste collection whilst waiting for your delayed train at New Street. One step at a time…

What we don’t like: Welcome to Birmingham…

Birmingham-City-Council-Website-Header

Having said the new interface has a ‘vibrant’ look and feel, it would be nice to be greeted online by a warm personality, a welcoming gambit of sorts, to what may arguably a fairly boring visit to a little piece of the Birmingham landscape. Wouldn’t it be great, for once, to see us make a statement as a city, to announce why we’re here and what we’re about?

It can be a long journey

Although the user journey throughout the new site is relatively simple, the number of clicks to get to certain destinations is pretty lengthy. For example, when searching ‘Things To Do’, if you’re unfamiliar with Visit Birmingham and even less with iChoose, you’ll click through to various categorised pages. Clicking on any of the countless listed links then sends you out of the council site to the city’s various tourist organisation websites, in the hope of you completing your search transaction somewhere on their site.

An incomplete project

An incomplete project you say? Doesn’t sound like Birmingham at all…

Whilst we fully recognise the huge task at hand when overhauling a website, it’s slightly confusing and disappointing when you see glimpses of the former body. To give just two examples, when clicking through to the benefits calculator or adoption pages, you’re transported away from the jazzy new interface to the dull old days of the former website.

Hopefully, however, all pages will be integrated into the new site over time and everyone can complete their purple, blue, green or yellow categorised tasks…

Overall, then, we’re pretty impressed. There’s no shooting stars or quirky features, it’s not a digital game-changer but a public service website is never going to be, and shouldn’t seen to be, for all sorts of time/cost reasons.

Having said that, Brum’s new online presence ranks very respectively amongst its peers.

Add to this their brand new digital platform, cog, designed to tackle the above-average youth unemployment in the city, it would appear BCC really is creeping out of the cave and striding ahead in the digital arena.

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