Town Council websites

The Councilsites service in a nutshell

I design and host modern town council websites which contain engaging and compelling local content and provide you with the tools you need to collect and disseminate town information online.

The websites I make rely on data, which I programme to appear in your webpages in ways that are immediately familiar to the public, your staff and your members.

I can provide you with much of that data, and of course the means to keep it up to date.

No programming knowledge is needed on your part. No extra software needs to be installed on your computers.

All your data is kept in a central place which is available from anywhere - not just in your office.

You are then free to investigate modern ways of working, delegate to as many contributors as you wish and enable them to login and work on your website remotely, but you retain full control.

My main objectives are to help you properly serve your public, within budget, by:

  1. finding data, putting it on online to make your town council look good
  2. tying up virtually none of your staffs' time whenever possible
  3. engaging with the public to both collect up, and validate your data

If you suspect your current website is not going to match your ambitions, well you now have a viable partner ready to help you push the boundaries of what your town council's website can deliver.

Are you ready to punch above your weight?

Think data, not webpages

What's so special about this service?

If you are not familiar with the acronym CMS (Content Management System) let me introduce it to you in a single paragraph. A CMS is a means whereby non-programmers can keep a website up to date using another webpage which they log into with a password. If you ever bought anything online, or filled in an online form, then you can use a CMS. In common with many others, parts of my CMS feature a small word processor with buttons which look and behave like those in Microsoft Word, in order that people are working in a familiar environment.

The CMS (Content Management System) I have designed for you to manage your town data has evolved over many years and is designed only for town councils (or maybe larger parishes). It is built from scratch with one job in mind, to provide a purely localised view of all the data we can lay our hands on about your town - right down to street level.

This is all mixed and mashed together with your own content - your own important messages - and presented to your public as webpages using as many familiar website navigation aids as I can, ways that make it as really easy for the public to find things - whilst minimising the calls for your valuable staff time.

That information (data) comes from various sources, such as :

  • central government
  • your "upstream" local government organisations
  • freely available data sets
  • your own local knowledge and contacts
  • your website visitors

Your website will contain many special features which:

  • I developed whilst working for a borough council
  • have been requested by other councils
  • work well on other websites, not just council websites
  • add value to your website and help both town residents and visitors
  • are intuitive and easy for your staff to use

Mine is currently the only service providing these levels of data integration for town councils.

Already got a CMS?

If you are familiar with how a CMS works then the main difference between your old system and mine is probably that you would spend far less time creating and updating and uploading 'documents', and instead be updating 'data records'.

Once changed, that data change cascades down though all your webpages. Its just a faster and less error-prone way of working.

The problems with your old 'document' based CMS will derive from the fact that it is probably built upon a generic CMS. A CMS such as this is routinely used to create many different types of website and your design company are only interested in shoe-horning your data into their systems.

Councilsites websites are designed from the ground up to serve one market only, towns and larger parishes. There are no wasted features. The events diary is built upon the experience that managing local events is not the same as the events for a shoe shop or a schools.

Recognising those differences, and creating and testing workflow solutions just for your industry will save your staff a lot of time and irritation.

Your team will enjoy using efficient tools and your website will become more relevant and useful for your public. This will make your council look good and leave your 'upstream councils' looking flat-footed and remote.

That is why you need to acquire the best tools for the job. Contact me to find out how to upgrade your CMS now.

Website features

What will the public see?

All of the features below, and many more, are ready to be used and are included in the price. These website features are a result of you manipulating your CMS and the output being remixed with data, much of it being data I get for you.

Don't be overwhelmed, use as many from this list as you wish and add others when you are ready - the cost is the same.

Your public will love your site because you provide:

  • maps, maps, maps!
  • utterly compelling Google Street View of roads which Google has captured
  • a gazetteer of all roads, junctions, postboxes, recycling points and car parks and their map locations
  • search of the entire site, including Agendas and Minutes
  • local news interspersed with your news
  • a list of public places, or buildings which are available for public use together navigable by maps
  • a list of the social activities which each public place permits, shown on a map
  • a town directory - all organisations and their contact details
  • a town business directory - basic contact details for each business and their locations shown on a map
  • a list of the main services or product groups each business provides, and of course shown on a map
  • an events diary where events can be sorted by location, organisers or date
  • a specialised search of Agendas and Minutes for those who know what they are looking for
  • a comprehensive A to Z which with links to every organisation, group, road, business, service, community activity and more
  • URLs (webpage addresses) which are memorable, can be read out on the phone, used in print and are guess-able and make sense. A-Z letter P? www.yourcouncil.gov.uk/P
  • photos from real people, amateur photographers who either live in or have visited you town as well as your own images managed via Flickr (a photo sharing website)

Your website will also have many other built-in features which update automatically, such as :

  • local road travel problems
  • travel directions ( via TransportDirect.info )
  • three day weather forecast
  • the latest local Jobcentre Plus vacancies from surrounding jobcentres

Show me - visit Godalming in Surrey (opens in a new window)

Your new website can be designed to sport any look you want, and if you wish can look and behave just as your existing site does.

My websites seek to demystify local government for the public - and that starts with your town council.

For example, everyone knows which road they live in, but who (apart from your members) knows which ward they live in?

Residents can simply pick their road and your website tells them their ward, and of course who their own councillors are. That's how it should work - websites I design and host do this.

Your website will be able to identify returning residents and show them information relevant to them, their road, their postcode area and just their ward.

You will show that your town council is listening and that you care. Almost every webpage has a prominent comment form for the public to use, and no, they don't need to send their email address nor do they have to remember yet another password .

I am making improvements to the system all the time, in the pipeline are:

  • Full integration with Twitter (Nov 2010)
  • Spending over £500 publication (Jan 2011)
  • The ability to capture and describe 'spaces' on a map. Sports grounds, cemeteries, allotments and the like (Dec 2010)

Whenever new features like these have been suggested, agreed, built and tested they are immediately available for all councils to use for no extra charge.

You can subscribe to my development blog or twitter feed to keep a watching brief on what I am doing for town council websites (see contact details below).

Workflow and controlling data

What the System lets you do

The CMS system I designed for you allows you to control all of the data which fuels the public facing webpages. Many of those key aspects such as the A-Z, menus, local government links and maps are automatically created and maintained "behind the scenes".

This System is continually evolving and improving and is hosted online so that I do not have to visit your premises to alter things, so both of our costs stay down.

Armed with an internet connected computer, and a password my CMS gives you control of 99% of your website contents, most of the updates are done in real-time. You get access to:

  • add as many webpages as you want, whenever you want
  • a Committee System linking roads, wards, councillors, committees and meetings right through to individual Agendas and Minutes
  • Agendas, Minutes and meetings diary publishing system [6]
  • a Press Release system which creates webpages
  • a news system which allows you to create your own news items
  • an events diary which permits you to simply approve and "nod through" events which members the public suggest and fill in for you
  • a granular local news system which allows you opt-in to carry links to other organisations (such as the police or local papers)
  • links to local and central government services interleaved with your own town organisations' links ranked by the recognised national vocabulary

My CMS lets you to record the actions taken and by whom, and then finally "close" each comment.

An "add your business" submission form which allows staff to approve and add the entry with a single click.

My CMS lets you to monitor activity on the site such as:

  • Search terms used, and the amount of results found and the approximate location of that visitor (town, country)
  • The location of visitors who make comments
  • Most active residents, newest registered residents
  • The postcode of those seeking travel directions to your town
  • The destination of residents seeking travel directions from their own postcode

You can easily edit staff contact details and job descriptions. There is also a means of delegating tasks, naming which people can login and edit (and in some cases having "read access") each part of the CMS. You can delegate tasks to people such as:

  • grant your committee secretary access to only the areas they need to control
  • let a councillor, working from home, login and help maintain your town directory
  • permit temp to access your business directory records, and just to add news, for example

CRM-lite

Who are all these poeple?

attributed to Thomas Hawk, link below

Woven into the structure of the website and CMS is very simple Customer Relations Management (CRM) functionality.

This is transparent to website visitors and seeks to identify those fairly frequent visitors who claim to live on a Road in your Town and who exhibit normal user activity ( they search for things, check their own councillors etc ). This means that we can treat them slightly differently, "You live in this road, so here are your councillors" [list them, show photos of councillors]. If a resident makes a comment or reports an error, then can choose to give extra credence to their claim, and so on.

No personal data is collected, releasing us from the need and expense involved in maintaining email addresses and passwords for the public at large. It also frees both myself and your council staff from potentially costly and time-consuming Data Protection obligations, Freedom of Information requests etc.

The introduction of this simple CRM-lite system opens the way for many new types of interaction and information gathering through the website. CRM-lite is a name I made up.

(Photo credit: Thomas Hawk on Flickr some rights reserved)

My guiding principles, do they fit?

Cateat emptor/venditor ...

I keep having these dreams, by piermario, credit below

Town and Parish Councils hold a unique place in local government and are the first port of call for many residents who do not understand how local government works, how it is structured or who does what. Your town council website should reflect not just your council services, but should try to be the best and most reliable jumping-off point to the providers of all local services covering your townsfolk.

Each website evolving from my CMS will automatically inherit behaviour which is a result of my experience in local government and the preferences of the few local council clerks I have worked with.

If you, or your council members, do not share my ethos then it is highly unlikely my services will suit you.

The following points are ranked roughly by importance, and I am sure I have missed some out. Just because you disagree with a few does not mean we could not get along fine - I can make a few tweaks. However, if you find yourself disagreeing with many, then it's probably a sign my service would not be a good fit.

In my opinion a good town council website should:

  1. serve the town residents as the primary audience**
  2. be seen to be independent of any other council or government bodies' influence, control, hosting or sponsorship
  3. participate actively in good joined-up-government by linking prominently to the exact webpage in other websites when a service is not provided by you
  4. have a .gov.uk domain
  5. display prominently complete contact details for the clerk, staff and members of the council
  6. make evident that it provides a holistic view of the town, information should as inclusive as possible - community includes local businesses too
  7. become the source for valuable, up-to-date contact lists for use by the council in conducting its affairs
  8. encourage residents and visitors alike to contribute to your content, telling you of mistakes, inaccuracies and missing content - you have to be willing to respond
  9. contain accessible, navigable council Agendas and Minutes as webpages to signpost the public who may "want to know more" about a place, concept, organisation or member
  10. include social media content when possible
  11. engage with the public on social media channels if the public prefer to do so
  12. have a light-touch engagement with the public, not having to remember "yet another flippin' password" (YAFP) or be forced to give you their email address

**If tourism is important in your town then lets talk. If it so important that it already has its own website perhaps there is a case to re-using some town content?

I am seeking to work with a relatively small number of ambitious town or larger parish councils willing to challenge me to help them shape the future of online digital service delivery in their town.

My services are probably going to be a best fit for those town councils where:

  • they have already got basic services right
  • the service delivery team meshes and already works really well together
  • the team is open to trying new things, and not afraid of obstacles
  • they are planning to take on extra services
  • they recognise that providing open, quality digital information about the services you supply may be a tipping point in being awarded those extra services

(Photo credit: Piermario on Flickr some rights reserved)

Prices

10p per person per annum

You rent from me an online CMS to manage your data. You website is made of webpages whose content is extracted from the CMS. You pay me to a) load up this data b) design your website c) keep your website online and support your endeavours to maintain you website.

Pricing is really simple and is based upon the number of inhabitants in the catchment area which your town represents, based on the last reliable census information. More residents means more work on my part, more server use and more internet bandwidth used.

For example, for a town of 13,000 inhabitants I charge £1,300 pa - hence 10p per inhabitant per year (I have a minimum charge of £1,000 pa). There are no other payments to be made for design or maintenance, and all the CMS services (modules) are freely available.

I will draw up 2 schedules which form part of any agreement.

  • Schedule A. the information I need from you to "seed" the website and the CMS
  • Schedule B. an agreed time schedule stipulating exactly which party does what, which features are to be enabled and a proposed target "live" date

Annual payment is due the day site becomes "live" and available to the public.

The minimum contract period is one year.

And those hidden costs ...

As you already probably have a website, then you are fully aware of 'hidden costs', the biggest being the staff time and energy needed to find and update out of date information.

One of my stated primary goals is to help you reduce those costs, and I do this by:

  • reusing data sets from elsewhere
  • prompting you to reuse your own existing data
  • enlisting the public to keep your data fresh and relevant
  • having organisations clamour to give you their information, but only accepting what is truly relevant (quite a trick)
  • clever use of technology to automate dull and error-prone tasks
  • creating shallow learning curves for you staff by making your CMS website control screens as simple and intuitive as possible
  • having your staff come to directly to me for free online support

Fundamentally, I hope that you will discover that adopting my Service will involve doing what you already do, but in a slightly different fashion - maintaining records online - in order to maximise the benefits of sharing that information.

So before you judge my price, think carefully about how much money you and your staff currently spend on pointless, time consuming tasks such as:

  • sending documents to your supplier to put online for you
  • checking if that work was done
  • trying to find a piece of text in a webpage and change it
  • responding to phone calls because public information cannot be found online
  • adding yet another attachment to an email for a member who wants an old copy of minutes
  • driving back to the office because you forgot some simple piece of information when there was no good reason why that information was not online in the first place

Fundamental timesaving features

We don't have time to do that

The idea of maintaining so much data must seem very daunting to you reading this page but the reality is that once the information is on-line and in the public gaze, then the public will gladly help you keep it up to date - because it is their website too. Experience has shown that the maintenance of this data takes very little time out of any one's day.

Yet, if there is one phrase that haunts me from past conversations with council clerks, committee secretaries and council staff it is this: "Yes its very nice, but we just don't have time to do that".

Hence everything I create in my CMS deals with the following fundamental questions: How can I speed up your workflow routine? How do I make an interface that is so simple, so "bleeding obvious" it does not need a help file? How can I add design this part of the CMS so that your staff are not allowed to make a simple mistake? While you are doing this job, what other relevant information can I show to help you? How can I reduce the amount of typing required to do this job? What can reuse?

In the vast majority of cases "updating a webpage" simply means "updating a record" or clicking a checkbox to approve information. It depends upon the type of record, but you have to imagine that when a record is altered the effects automatically cascade down into the pages on your website, into your A-Z, into menus and navigation bars.

Low migration costs

On signing an agreement, we "seed" your website CMS by loading up the data from digital information you send us (word .docs, .xls files etc), or take it from your existing website - and we do that for free (except past committee documents, this will depend on how you want to proceed).

Remember, you do not have to implement every website feature from the first day.

Each record (be that a road, a business, and organisation or a meeting agenda) which your website holds is in effect a webpage, so in no time at all you will have thousands of individual webpages, and yet editing that information will seem as simple as editing records on a spreadsheet thanks to the very simple to use interface of the CMS.

Your new website can be "skinned" to look and behave just as your existing site does, if you wish.

Ongoing savings

Your council will benefit from having access to the most up-to-date information about your town.

You will be able to create mailshots, make intelligent and informed choices about how to contact businesses or local groups - and be in a position to help others do the same.

If someone walks into your office to tell you about a problem in a street, your staff can agree and pinpoint the exact location via your website.

What my Service does not provide

Things you have to sort out

Your .gov.uk domain name, only you can register for this. I can help you with the simple registration process - but your domain is your councils' property and as such should be separate from your website purchase (around £100 for 2 years). It is not included in my price. You send the payment, and tell the authorities that I am hosting your website.

My service is an approved .gov.uk domain name hosting supplier, so I can easily transfer your existing .gov.uk domain to my dedicated, secure server.

I currently provide no client support for your email. As long as your email is stored on my server, it is up to you to access it.

I will set things up so that your email client can collect your email, and you can advise me which email addresses you would like setting up, but I provide no spam filtering service and make no guarantees about what happens when you open up the email you receive. Email is an operational matter for you to sort out locally.

Honestly? I recommend is that you use a good webmail provider such as Gmail, and we simply divert your email to your various existing email addresses.

Using a good webmail provider you can still send and recieve email as townclerk@yourcouncil.gov.uk, and what is more you benefit from:

  • 24/7 access to your email
  • access from anywhere, any web connected computer or netbook
  • increasingly, access from your mobile phone or blackberry
  • advanced, effective and bang up-to-date spam filtering
  • access to many other online services via your email account (some of which appear in your CMS)

I do not provide public forums for council websites for mainly for reasons of security, but if you already have one, then I can link to it anywhere you stipulate. You could simply "add a new page" and introduce and link to your public forum from that new page. If you want to run a forum on another server I will be happy to advise you.

I do not provide blogs, primarily because nobody has asked me for this. Again, if you already have a blog then I am more than happy to provide links to them. There is provision within the committee system to add a direct link to a blog, or website for each of your councillors in any case.

Who I am and my credentials

I've been doing this all day

My name is Paul Geraghty and my business is called Councilsites.co.uk, I am a qualfied full time web-developer and have worked on LA (Local Authority) websites for more than 12 years. I worked for a borough council for 10 years and so fully appreciate the pressures, fallibilities, challenges, work practices and drivers behind that mid-tier of local government

I completely understand "who does what" (and possess insights into the "why and how" too).

During that time I worked part-time, mostly as a hobby, for some town and parish councils and it is where I "cut my teeth" sometimes trying out innovative technologies.

I spent a lot of time talking with town and parish clerks and their staff.

  • I am sole trader trading as Councilsites.co.uk (1999), and am VAT registered
  • I have been registered with the Data Protection Agency as a "Data Handler" for over 6 years
  • I call on outside contractors for development and data input work as and when I need them
  • I will form a limited company only when the time is right for me to do so (fancy investing? Get in touch)

More reasons you should trust me with your town council website:

  • In 10 years at the borough council their site was named in the Top 20 LA websites a record 4 times (competing with 430 organisations) - making stuff on council websites "findable and navigable" is my profession
  • I have given talks on meta-data and advanced navigational techniques for local government at conferences and workshops - I know where the good stuff is and how to get it
  • I have partipated in workshops dealing with the semantic web and Open Data - I know how to "future proof" your website, I know roughly where the web is heading, and can keep you council ahead of the game, punching above your weight and looking good online
  • My first year in IT was spent working for a GIS (mapping) company - I know about maps and usability

My contact details

Get in touch or follow me

Email: councilsites@gmail.com

Blog: Councilsites.posterous.com

Twitter: @councilsites

I am sorry if you cannot find the exact information you need from this website. Following a few years of solid development I am now entering a marketing phase - so don't hesitate, please do fire off to me any questions or observations you have. I will reply to you as soon as I can.

If you have an RSS reader then subscribe to my blog or twitter feeds.

Thanks for stopping by!