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Review: WMCA makes a digital mark

Review: WMCA makes a digital mark

🕔30.Jun 2017

Only last week the Chamberlain Files editorial team was commenting on the website of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) hardly reflecting the personality of its energetic new Mayor.

In a slightly different review to her usual restaurant types, Urban’s Hannah Green takes a look at a refreshed WMCA site. 

It appears all the sexiest Files reviews are left to me. First, the BCC website refresh, now the WMCA. I know how to live…

A layer of local government formed officially only in 2016 yet whose digital shopfront showed little by way of inspiration or indeed authority over the UK’s fastest-growing region, not to mention little to no word on said new Mayor.

So who is www.wmca.org.uk for?

The refreshed WMCA website is still fairly public sector and arguably corporate in overall purpose, look and feel. There is a need to inform and educate people, whether that be the local public, business or media, about what the WMCA is, its role and overall objectives.

There is also a need for transparency for such a public body so strategy, budget and spending as well as committee meeting minutes are some of the items anybody can find to download here, should you be so inclined (that’d be me, then – Ed).

Another indicator of the site’s overall purpose is the easily accessible media assets and brand guidelines. The WMCA appears keen to become an established authority with a widely recognised brand whom the local population and media come to recognise and talk about as the regional body in charge.

What’s good

It’s bright, clean and fresh. Helped by the colourful logo of the WMCA, there’s colour dotted about everywhere. The WMCA appears to reflect a vibrant region.

Straight from the homepage, it is image-led, showing what appear to be ‘real’ people working in the West Midlands towards that “healthier, happier, better connected and more prosperous West Midlands.”

The navigation is quick, clean and clear, with the adoption of the trend to use icons to add detail to an otherwise (as a list of words) seemingly ‘dull’ collection: ‘strategy’, ‘skills & productivity’ and ‘budget & spending’.

Despite the seemingly informative purposes, the language has softened and there are decent high quality images to illustrate what can be seen as fairly mundane topics (I for one love being hot on the heels of the latest transport and connectivity news…)

There’s also a neat interactive chart to illustrate the WMCA, how it is made up of local authorities, local enterprise partnerships and its observer organisations. The leader and chief exec of each authority then drop down as a special ‘who’s who’ for each local authority, LEP and observer organisation. It looks as if we’ve got some sort of co-ordinated combined authority team here. On paper it works so well…

The all important mobile responsiveness is clean too, with neat scrollers and an easy user experience on smartphone.

I wonder, is that an intentional Conservative blue I spot heavily in the overall website colour pallet however? Probably not.

What’s not

Is it more Mayor than WMCA? Yes, we were bemused by the previous lack of mention or focus on the Mayor on the previous website. Mr Street is now, most definitely, visible, with a central ‘Meet the Mayor’  link on the homepage, where you can then download his Renewal Plan for the West Midlands and other Mayoral functions documents. Oh, and did he mention he’s got this thing called Mayor’s Mentors? Well they’re there too, bright and bold for everyone to see Mr Street’s shiny new project.

There is however then no mention of Andy’s board, refreshed Cabinet or executive team, no extension to the ‘Who we are’ page, despite the original WMCA Board having been established back in 2016. It would appear Mr Street runs this joint solo. We wonder how long it will take for the new chief executive Deborah Cadman (A WOMAN!) to make an appearance outside of the press release on the site?

One would assume a new page is ‘coming soon’ with a snazzy chart including Ms Cadman’s and all Board member faces.

Another slight gripe from our semi-journo perspective is the positioning of the news articles. This appears in the third section and (in lazy mobile terms) feels a little hidden for hungry factcheckers like ourselves. It’s there, it just feels slightly hidden, particularly with a lack of navigation from the header menu alongside brand assets.

How does it compare

In a brief comparison to our Manchester, Liverpool and West Country combined authority counterparts, it doesn’t rate badly at all. It is certainly the most modern, vibrant and colourful of the four. Good use of images and clear, ‘established’ brands to identify the WMCA, Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) and Network West Midlands. It definitely appears to be, in a digital sense, the most energised combined authority.

It misses one quite prominent feature in comparison to the other combined authority websites, however. There is no single mention, either directly on the homepage nor on the header or footer, of each of the seven local councils which make up the WMCA. Yes there is the interactive structure chart, but this is hidden under Mr Street’s smiling face and personal biography under the ‘who we are’ banner.

With the feared loss of local identity to the ‘West Midlands” or even ‘Greater Birmingham’ banner being one of the most contentious combined authority issues amongst the West Midlands population, this could have been a wise and even friendly gesture to feature each individual authority from the get-go, even just by name.

So, on the whole we’re pretty impressed with this revamped site for the region’s Combined Authority – and don’t forget its Mayor . It looks like we mean business, ready to charge ahead in the race for regional growth and devolution success. We feel news should be featured more prominently, as should each local authority and the wider Board in charge at WMCA.

If this website is a sign we are inching ahead in the world we could soon even be raising our digital aspirations to the market leader of public service/transport brands on digital and social media channels, Transport for London? Well, steady on…

Hannah Green is client services executive at Urban Communications 

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