Dr Kay Fielden from Unitec in Auckland talked yesterday to Public Address on Radio Live about her report on how local Government is tracking against these objectives.
The overarching expectation set by the Strategy was that users could engage in "full participation online" - that is, interaction with their Council online by more than just downloading a document or PDF, or sending an email.
Dr Fielden remarks that her study has shown that some local Government bodies are doing a "really great" job of advancing in this space, adopting new technologies to engage with their audience. PNCC and our web vendor, Terabyte, were thrilled to hear that the Palmerston North City Council website was put forward as an excellent example of working innovatively towards achieving that "full participation" goal.
In the course of her review, Dr Fielden has identified that Councils are in danger of putting forward and internal view of themselves and their organisation, rather than what the audience expects or needs to find online. The websites which really struggle in this space are those which design their web presence around that internal structure - which makes no sense to visitors to their website.
Constraints on smaller Councils include budget limitations, though some Local Government bodies operating in larger areas which don't perform so well online don't have so many "excuses" for a poor user experience.
The Rural Digital Divide is still in place - there is still limited or no access to broadband internet in rural areas in New Zealand, making it a struggle for a resident to even download a document or web page online. Dr Fielden acknowledges that free internet access in public libraries is essential to overcome this barrier, though as web solutions providers we too must take this barrier into consideration.
These and other constraints are tests on the web strategy of a local government operator, partnered with adherence to standards and guidelines for compliance, the job of producing an excellent online experience is not a simple one in this space.
Again, PNCC was commended for their innovation in engaging with their audience, with use of Facebook and Twitter and with real focus put on the need to present task based information for their residents. "Do it online" features for allowing, rates payment, enquiries and listings of the services and facilities the Council provides in the community.
Web Manager, Hamish Richardson says "We are very proud of our work and the partnership with Terabyte; we have a shared dedication to creating the best online experience possible for our website users."