I had a really interesting day out at Web Content Camp this week (kindly organised and hosted by Coventry City Council). This was a barcamp-style conference dedicated to local gov people talking specifically about web content and digital communications / engagement.

There were a couple of slots for set presentations throughout the morning and then in true unconference style delegates proposed sessions and formed the afternoon’s agenda.

Here’s a little summary of the stuff I heard and participated in.

NHS Choices / syndicated content (Matt George, NHS Choices)

A really useful reminder that NHS Choices has a load of content available for local government to embed into their own websites. This might become more relevant as local government takes bigger responsibility for public health services.

For me it was useful to take a look at the widget which allows your visitors to find their nearest GP, dentist, hospital or pharmacy. I can see how we might want to use this and can certainly see how it could add value for visitors to local gov websites.

Off the back of this presentation it was useful, also, to be reminded of other central gov widgets available at innovate.gov.uk. Particularly mentioned where the Job Centre+ widget which links to their database of vacancies – given most council websites find ‘jobs’ is one of their top tasks it makes sense to have this signposting embedded.

Mobile strategy (Jadu)

This was a good introduction to the need for mobile strategy with some interesting statistics on mobile internet usage. The bit I need to look up and slot in is the local picture (for Derbyshire in my case) – if anyone has that level of local statistic I’d be really interested to take a look.

This basically took us through two options for mobile strategy – responsive design or native apps. I think there are already council’s exploring both options and again, if they’re willing to share with the rest of us their findings so far that would be really interesting.

One of the soundbites I tweeted was ‘mobile strategy – make your top tasks into apps’ and later on a few people on Twitter added their own thoughts on this including ‘turn top tasks into APIs and make apps that use them rather than DB (database) queries’.

Becoming UX facilitators (Martin Black, London Borough of Camden)

This was probably the most interesting talk of the day for me – shifting council web teams from being content managers to UX facilitators.

There was a useful how-to on carrying out usability testing in-house with some good ideas about making use of council employees in this task (as many will also be residents for the council for which they work).

There was also a useful discussion about usability of third-party apps which often provide the transactional element of council websites. Martin had some good ideas about writing usability and usability testing into contracts (as a separate point to accessibility compliance) and feeding back to suppliers where issues are discovered.

I personally think this is one of the biggest issues facing local government websites at the moment – being able to take responsibility for the whole customer journey and ensure UX is excellent even for parts of that journey taking place in a supplier system.

Taking FOI requests through social media

Into the first unconference session of the afternoon – a discussion about the recent ICO guidance that social media is now a valid channel through which FOI requests can be made.

I’m not sure we came up with any answers about how best to handle this but there was useful discussion around organisation culture and shifting understanding of the social media channel.

Cutting the chuff

This subject really spanned two sessions I attended in the afternoon and covered a whole bushel of topics:

  • top tasks
  • getting (and using) user feedback
  • serious gaming for citizen engagement
  • content management, strategy and optimisation including cutting the size of websites down
  • governance models and organisation culture.

Inevitably, SocITM and Better Connected 2012 was somewhat mentioned in these sessions. I think they’d be well summed up by the recent post by Peter Barton. There is also a discussion of the new approach SocITM are taking with Better Connected 2012 in the Web Improvement Community of Practice (log-in required).

Anyway, this session left me feeling a little bit despondent if I’m honest. It seems people are still struggling to get web management / digital comms and engagement taken seriously by their organisations and to have their expertise taken notice of.

I’m really not sure how to turn this round but hope remains, as even those who are facing huge struggles and barriers, are committed to continuing to try and push to make it a priority.

For me, I left with a couple of interesting ideas about usability testing (this fitted in well with Martin’s UX presentation) and thinking that while we might not have got our content strategy and governance model spot on just yet we’re certainly heading the right direction.

Intranet 2.0

Final session of the day was an interesting discussion about the case for using social web technologies with an internal audience as a replacement or addition to council intranets.

The pilot carried out by Devon County Council was mentioned as were examples of other council’s and police forces exploring some aspects.

The group broadly agreed that there was a sound case and that it was a topic that warranted further discussion.

As is usual at these types of event there were other discussions I’d have liked to have been a part of – the web analytics chat seemed to be particularly useful – and discussion there just wasn’t time for (press releases versus news on council homepages).

There are some good practical things to take away from the day though and lots of discussion which I hope will continue. I’m also hopeful that someone will pick up the baton and we’ll have more web content / UX ¬†focused camps in the future.

Thanks to Ally Hook for organising, Coventry City Council for hosting and to sponsors More Open and Jadu. You can catch up with other people’s thoughts on the day through the Twitter hash tag #wcgcCov.