After more than a year of hard work, the new City Hall website finally went live last week, transforming Boris and the Assembly’s online home from an important but staid list of decisions and committees into a bright, vibrant and more accessibly written resource suitable for all Londoners.
At a couple of stages during the design and development process City Hall’s digital and communications team were kind enough to let me take part in some of their user testing sessions and share my thoughts on their efforts.
But the most important voices heard during this testing phase were those of ‘ordinary’ Londoners – people who don’t consider themselves experts in devolved regional Government but, rightly, want to better understand how their taxes are being spent.
With research conducted by City Hall last year finding “that Londoners knew relatively little” about its work, the site needed a radical overhaul to ensure that the vast amount of information already put into the public domain was easier to find and understand.
The new site’s increased use of photography, plain English instead of jargon and an improved search facility will all boost its usefulness, but the most dramatic improvement is the handy ‘In my area’ page which makes it easier for Londoners to understand the Mayor’s work in their community and see at a glance who their local Assembly Member is and how to contact them.
There’s also a much-improved webcast system which works nicely with Macs, smartphones and tablets making it easier to watch the Assembly’s well-informed and forensic scrutiny of the Mayor and other key decision makers.
Nothing’s perfect of course and I think the new topic pages are too focussed around the Mayoralty – if the goal is to increase public understanding it seems counter-productive to exclude any mention of the Assembly or direct links to its relevant committee on, for example, the policing page.
But overall the new london.gov.uk is a vast improvement on its predecessor and the next Mayor and Assembly will have a robust, scaleable platform from which to shout about their work.