So, the dust is beginning to settle and while it will undoubtedly take a while for the organisation adjust to being under the control of a different party for the first time in 28 years now seems a good a time as any to have a look at how we covered the election in which they took the seats.
In my first post about election 2009 I looked at how we had set up a new section and added extra functionality and revealed what we planned to do as results came in. Our plan, very nearly, came together.
Our real-time reporting of events worked well as did the system we had in place for getting the results from the count rooms around the county to us at county hall.
Using Twitter and Facebook to publish the results also worked well. At one point (around 8.30am) it looked like it might be all we had to get the results out as we tackled technical problems, eventually winning most of the battles.
The problems did mean we had to jettison some of our content to get off the ground though. Sadly the detailed text pages organised by division were a casualty, as were some of automated functions of the system. But temporarily letting them go allowed us to fix the other stuff on the fly and get something out there.

What did make it?

  • The virtual chamber – the little people colour in according the the result, the pie chart shows the party share and then you can exactly how many votes each candidate for each division polled.
  • The county map – we would have liked to have done more work on this. It was intended to have interactive functionality so you could hover off and get information but also drill down to detailed info by district and division.
  • Our Twitter feed – I’d say this was successful. We gained around 130 new followers as the results started rolling in. Were able to respond to queries and gather feedback on how we were doing. The Twitter feed also fed the website and the latest results featured on our home page and on a dedicated page in the results section. Lessons? Well, we could have probably used hash tags more effectively.
  • Our Facebook page – I’d also say this was successful. The group trebled in size during the results action and, most interestingly, they started talking to each other (and kept it polite). This also allowed us opportunity to see how we were doing, allowed citizens a platform to discuss what was happening and I hope some will take the time to email us about their experience so we can learn from it further.
  • Our work on your TV screen – I think we made most of the networks. This was great as it meant they thought our graphics clearly displayed the situation and was also a great morale boost for the team. We had a lovely moment in amongst the constant action where we stood around the TV in our office and all clapped and grinned like idiots as our graphics played out on BBC lunchtime news.It wasn’t the most important thing to us that day but it was special all the same.

What didn’t make it:

There were a couple of things in the run up to polling day which didn’t make it and a few bits of the results system which also remained dormant.

  • Mapping data – we really wanted to map all the polling stations in the country and link it into our public transport journey planner. Sadly, this was not to be. This time.
  • Blogs – we initially planned to carry blogs from our first time and new to county voters to be updated through the run up to the election. Again, this wasn’t to be. Instead we went for a compromise option and did case studies.
  • Photo galleries – we also had some ideas around photo galleries which would take user generated content too. Images have been a problem all round for us throughout this build & deployment. We’ve tried our best to build a bigger stock and I think, if nothing else, a general election will give us the chance to get out and take some more pics! We’ve started to set up a photo album on our Facebook page and hope to add one to the website next week.
  • Our text content of results – when the results were entered into the XML file powering the map and chamber this was supposed to generate a text page which gave the detailed information for each division. In turn the URL to this division specific page was to be included in the tweets & Facebook status updates. It didn’t happen, autopsy pending.
  • (Added 7 June): Results available by SMS – originally planned for visitors to be able to register their number and division ahead of polling day in order to receive two text messages in return; one with result of the division and one with the overall result. For reasons beyond our control we couldn’t go ahead with this.

Generally cool things that happened:

  • Opportunity to work with the rest of Public Relations, in particular the press office. This was a real test of the teams working together and it seemed to go pretty seamlessly. We got the job done and left each other to deal with the specialisms and the overall effect to the outside world was quite cool.
  • Working with colleagues in democratic services and IT.
  • Did I mention our graphics were on TV? lol
  • Working with colleagues across the public sector who were kind enough to look at our stuff in advance and give us help, advice and support as we went live blind to what everyone else could see thanks to being shut out of the network. Special thanks to Dan at Redbridge, Al at Newcastle, Simon Wakeman at Medway and the districts in our county. There were lots of others who supported via Twitter on the day.
  • Our visitor figures spiked somewhat. In 24 hours (Friday) we had more than 19,000 visits to our election section alone. And the site didn’t fall over (too badly, as far as we know). This is our highest number of visits in one day ever!

Still to come:

  • New councillor profiles
  • Rebuilding areas of content around the new administration (meetings etc)
  • Hopefully that photo gallery will make it
  • European election results
  • Results of the outstanding division in mid-July
  • We’re due a reskin of the website (when we finish the CMS) and a lot of the things we tried or learnt here will feed into that.

(Added 7 June) Looking ahead to the next elections I think we would look to do more work on the sort of systems we had this time, ensure that the complete picture of information could be presented and try to get the back office hook ups to work how we wanted them to. Beyond that I think the next step in development would be looking at online voting and widgets / other platforms (iPhone apps etc). I am sure there is lots we can do and we have four years to work it out!

And I think that’s about all I can say about elections. I am still a little emotionally charged from the adrenalin of working at such pressure yesterday and giddy with the joy of how well our team worked together on the day and in the run up. Now we just need to decide what to tackle next!

5 thoughts on “Election 2009: Part the second

  1. This is all absolutely excellent, more councils should be engaging online like this.

    Am I right that it's still not possible get the breakdown of votes within each ward? I think that the priorities have been wrong here, publishing the raw information on numbers of votes, preferably along with turnout figures and numbers of spoilt papers should have been the primary duty of the council website. The graphics and social networking is fabulous and you've clearly done really well at getting some information out, but I think the detail is important. I realise you were planning to provide it.

    Is there any your employer will allow you to release the software you've developed under an open source license so that it can be taken up, used, and improved by other councils? I think great developments like this in one part of the public sector ought be shared. Lots of people are trying to do very similar things in different parts of the country there shouldn't be a need to re-invent the wheel repeatedly.

    I've been told by some of my local councillors that open source development costs more than close source. Do you share that view?

  2. Thanks for your comments Richard.

    My primary role is in content, accessibility and usability and so publishing the right information in the right way at the right time is really the key to my work!

    I agree, as I said above, that not being able to add the detail to the results as we were going along was a major disappointment and set back to us. This information will be added as soon as possible along with other displays.

    I am not sure about releasing what we have done as Open Source. Some of it was done within our CMS and as this is a commercial product that would have limitations. We have no problem sharing our experience with colleagues in other councils as we have done in the past, and benefited from their knowledge and experience too. This will be another aspect of discussions as we move away from actively working on this area of content.

    I can't comment on whether open source costs more than close source as I am not in a technical officer and as such have insufficient knowledge myself.

  3. 'map all the polling stations in the country and link it into public transport'

    Transport Direct have a widget which might be good for this – extremely under promoted widget!

  4. Thanks for the tip off – did not know. Might also be of interest to Dan at Redbridge so will let him know.

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