Swindon Borough Council’s website has recently been revamped – and despite the hoopla about how good it is, there is a question mark over how easy it is to find stuff, writes Juliet Platt.
For example, if you want to find out the contact details of your ward councillor, or the phone number of a local school, it is no longer possible to use the search box that comes up on the home page.
Instead you need to scroll down the home page, past the empty space that makes you wonder if something has been missed out, to the bottom section under Council Services, and select which heading you want.
If you want to find out how to contact your councillor, select Council and Democracy. On the next page select Councillors, Democracy and Elections, then on the next page select Councillors’ Contact Details, before scrolling down to the councillor you want and clicking on their name.
Likewise for school details: the route from the home page is to click Education and Learning under Council Services at the bottom of the page, then select Schools and Colleges etc, then click on Schools’ Addresses and Contact Details. You then choose whether you want to search Primary, Secondary or Special schools – though if you only know the name of a school, you may not know what category of school it is. If you are able to select the category, only then will you see the names of the schools listed on the page. Click once more and you will finally be routed to the school’s phone number.
Granted your councillor is only 4 clicks away, while the school you’re after is at least 6 clicks away. Is this the way the council hopes to demonstrate how easy it is to keep in touch with politicians? Perhaps the Yellow Pages would be easier…
However Swindon Council public relations officer Richard Freeman has hit back and writes:
It’s very disappointing that a critical article has appeared on your website without Juliet having made any attempt to contact us beforehand for a comment. It’s not fair or reasonable criticism, and having looked into what she has written it would appear that she has used the website in a way that is completely counter-intuitive.
We would have appreciated her feedback to have been given to us over the phone, not splashed all over your front page, because it gives a false impression completely at odds with the experience of the vast majority of users. The only consolation is perhaps that anyone wishing to test her theories will find themselves equally puzzled as to where she is coming from.
We were initially at a loss to understand how she’d managed not to find what she was looking for quickly. The search box is clearly marked and works, despite what she says, and has a large box next to it marked ‘go…’.. There is a large orange ‘browse services’ button under the search box, and there’s a clearly marked A-Z search function. All of these would have got her to where she wanted to be much more quickly than the method she has apparently used.
After much head scratching we can only assume that after typing the words into the search box she’s clicked on the button marked ‘search’ underneath, rather than the ‘go’ button next to the box, or by pressing the ‘return’ or ‘enter’ keys on her keyboard. As part of our development of the new website we’re monitoring user behaviour and we’ve not come across this before.
Now we’ve had this feedback (albeit in a way that wasn’t fair or warranted in our opinion) we will take it on board and adjust the site to try and prevent someone doing something similar in future. The website contains information about more than 800 services and sees between 210,000 and 250,000 visits a month.
We believe the small and dedicated team that has worked extremely hard to successfully re-vamp a very important website for Swindon residents, at considerably less cost to the public purse than if it had been done externally, deserve a lot better than Juliet’s article.