Who should run the council website?

If the communications department and "customer services" are the logical homes for the job of keeping a local government website up to date, the task in practice often gets stuck with the IT team.

If the communications department and “customer services” are the logical homes for the job of keeping a local government website up to date, the task in practice often gets stuck with the IT team.

That is the picture that emerges from a number of case studies presented during an ALGIM/Computerland symposium.

Palmerston North City Council uses Microsoft’s Content Management Server (CMS) in applications service provision mode through the collaborative Community OnLine (COL) effort, and is in the process of transferring responsibility for content from information management to customer services, says spokesman Mike Manson. The site was designed by an “internet committee” of six, which continues to be responsible for content, each taking care of a particular part of the site. The content is ultimately supplied by users across the council organisation.

The COL program, organised by Local Government Online (LGOL), provides a template website designed to meet the common e-government requirements of a local authority. Fourteen authorities have so far developed sites to the COL plan and a 15th, Ashburton, has a site under development.

After debating whether its site should be targeted more to locals or to tourists, Palmerston North eventually decided to aim for both, but to separate much of the visitor-relevant content to a “marketing the region” website.

The Rodney District Council participates in the COL but does not yet use CMS, preferring to rely on a “dedicated web resource” (one staffer) for updating. Spokeswoman Ursula Matthews acknowledged that lack of a CMS could be a disadvantage if the communications department doesn’t update the website.

“If you have no CMS, it tends to fall into the hands of IT. This is less than ideal. Only the owner of information really knows when it’s out of date.”

But one of the problems of keeping a website populated, she says, is “chasing people up to supply, verify and update their content”.

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