The Chamberlain Files | Homepage not so bad after all, unless you are searching for the Council House phone number not so bad after all, unless you are searching for the Council House phone number

🕔21.Feb 2014

There’s some good news at last for Birmingham city council’s much-maligned website. A new study proves that, for most people, it’s  relatively easy to access information and order services.

The site is pioneering a national pilot study where users are invited to rank how easily they managed to find what they were looking for, from a very easy category to ‘give up’.

Sixty-eight tasks are listed, ranging from paying council tax and parking fines to finding out about school holidays and complaining about noise nuisance.

Users have four options for accessing the site – navigation from the home page, navigation using the A-Z directory, searching on Google, and searching using the site’s internal search.

With a scoring system of 5 for very easy, 3 for easy, 1 for difficult, and -3 for gave up, it’s possible to calculate a ‘usability index’, ranging from -12 for useless to 20 for brilliant. Birmingham rated 11.

A grid setting out the results for Birmingham indicates a sea of green for very easy and easy access.

Tasks that were universally dubbed very easy or easy included applying for a blue badge parking permit, applying for council tax and housing benefit, finding out about meals on wheels, complaining about noise nuisance, applying for a council house and commenting on planning applications.

Users also found it easy to find out about school holiday dates and complain about something the council has done, and how to become a supplier of goods to the council.

On the minus side, it proved difficult to apply for a leisure discount card, to apply for a taxi licence and to look at local information services on a map.

Two tasks that proved totally impossible, whichever method of accessing the site was used, were finding out information about stopping smoking and discovering the main council telephone number.

The results revealed sharply differing customer experiences depending on which method of accessing the site was used. Navigating straight from the home page proved the most troublesome, while performing a Google search was the easiest way to find out about council services.

Simon Gray, corporate web and self-service development officer at Birmingham city council, is helping to run the council website usability dashboard.

Writing in the Guardian newspaper, Mr Gray explained the project:LocalGov Digital has supported me in developing the dashboard from an idea to be used in my own work at Birmingham city council to a free resource that can be of benefit to the whole local government sector.

The idea is simple. Rather than just one person testing a small number of council website tasks we have created a platform that crowd sources views.

“Getting more people to look at a much broader range of things we hope to build up a picture of the usability of different council website in England, Scotland and Wales.”

“Anyone can test a certain service and you can search for your council to see what other people have said. The site is currently in rough form but future developments include letting people compare councils against each other to see how they differ on different areas.

“With more people looking at how things work a much more objective picture can be gleaned. It’s important that we understand how an ordinary user, and not a web expert, finds using all these online services.”

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