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Page history last edited by Ben Hurtisson 13 years, 4 months ago


Thank you to everyone who has contributed so far!

Quick things you can do:




About this project:


Building a better site for our city.  You may have seen the new Birmingham City Council sites, judging by comments I'd say most of you don't think it lives up to its potential. But — could a group of volunteers do better?

What does a council site need, can it be scraped together and built in a better way for free in dezmembrari auto?


Discuss and edit together ideas here.






Contents of Solutions wall (1pm):

Solutions wall (how can we solve a problem for someone?):

Google alerts.

What to do if? box.

Make the whole thing post cody.

Make it easier to access planning applications. Scrape them?




Contents of Problems wall (1pm):

Problems wall (what is the problem you want to solve on your visit to the website?):

Birmingham City Council website is one of the worst I have ever used. Very rarely tells you what you need to know and when you try to report a fault, you get no acknowledgement. Also cluttered and ugly and counter-intuitive.  oyunlar1 

Accessing jobs.

Support networks (Arts Team Projects).

Problems with new planning website: 1. Very slow and clunky. 2. No longer supplies weekly lists of planning ap0plications by ward. ??? have complained and ar- these aren't available as far as I can see. 3.If you type in a PA number into main search you can't access it by hitting return - you have to scroll to bottom of page.

Democracy page. Council doc search. Old docs.

Business section. Where does my money go? Business contracts.

vanzari auto




Contents of Features wall (1pm):


Features wall (suggest a neat idea):

Malicious edits



Feature to find supermarket (planning apps

Tag cloud - pages - interest

Suggest tags for pages: ??open calais zemante??

Planning application scraper


Pull images from Flickr

Hit counter - so others can see if pages/message getting through

Monumental --> where next?



                Post code entry - straight to content - am I in...

                1. To the extent that the BCC DIY site is going to include BCC departmental access, certain BCC sites (library and council tax, for example) permit personal identification input (library card number, tax relief, etc) to be 'retained' so that it doesn't need to be inputted again - BCC DIY would need to incorporate this facility unless, of course, the DIY site does no more than link to the relevant BCC departmental site and asigurari auto.Pariuri SportiveRezultate LiveClasamente Fotbal Statistici FotbalBiletul Zilei

Mobile/PDA friendly.




Contents of scope wall (1pm):



Scope (not the council?):

Builders and plumbers

Electricians, teachers, etc

Free cycle

Child minders

Bus routes

Car boot

3. The council has a vested interest in not advertising actions being taken against it by a citizen/visitor/business for some failure or error. A 'register' of actions identifying the nature of the complaint? (e.g. I have successfully taken action (county court) against two departments of the council with respect to breaches (several for each department) of the Disability diSCRIMINATION aCTS. iN ADDITION TO THESE TWO - FOR WHICH THERE WAS A COURT ORDER AGAINST THE COUNCIL - i HAVE JUST COMMENTED YET ANOTHER SIMILAR ACTION, WITH ANOTHER ONE A DISTINCT POSSIBILITY. tHE diy SITE CAN HELP PEOPLE APPRECIATE THEY  ARE 'not alone'.

A 'gripes and groans' noticeboard?


Contents of 'near me' wall:



A - Peoples concerns:

                1. Email/Phone - Contacts

                2. Where/what/how to recycle

                2. Rubbish collection dates

                2. Rubbish clearance

                2. Rats and pests

                2. Dead dogs, etc

                3. Schools and Health

                4. Post boxes and times

                5. Crime

                6. CSP Partnership (police)


B - Local democracy:

                Neighbourhood forum

                Ward committees (minutes)

                Survey and census information


                Strategies --> feedback

                Neighbourhood office - which one?


C - Create community:

                Running groups

                Parks, libraries and museums

                Sport, swim, leisure



                Food and drink

                Upcoming events

                Allotments and recycling

                Transport links


D - User generated content:

                Welcome from local people


                Travel tips - how (not) to get to places

                PDFs, maps, etc

                Cycle routes


E - Support businesses and customers:

                Jobs in area

                Town centre managers

                Farmers market (event/local business)


Work in progress

Items marked in green are features that have been added to the work in progress site at http://electric-moon-93.heroku.com

Items marked in orange need to be done.


What does a council site need - where can it come from?


Democracy information & contacts — scraped from existing site?

Service info — scraped from existing site?

Contacting departments — info scraped, but needs new forms built?

Fixing stuff — use Fix My Steeet?

Planning apps — use planningonline to generate lists?

News/PR — pull from birminghamnewsroon.com?

Events — scrape from site, add to livebrum.co.uk & use livebrum as interface?


What else in piese auto?


Common tasks easily reachable from the home page:

Pay your council tax

Report a problem

Find a contact


What else?



How should a council site work?



By postcode — that pulls together all relevant data? SohbetOyun1

By category — what are they?

By department and related departments. (visually see how a department relies on another. Instead of being on the phone and being passed around from switchboard to switchboard).


Who is the site for?

People hunting for answers to specific problems.

Non techy people as much as web savvy people.

People with accessibility needs.

Frustrated people that are sick of waiting on the phone (I think this is perfectly relevant).


People looking to relocate.

People looking for tourism info about Birmingham

People looking for jobs.










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Comments (Show all 42)

chrisivens said

at 9:55 am on Sep 11, 2009

The info people need from a council site varies wildly. From swimming bath opening times to paying bills and lodging disputes. It would be nice from a user point of view to have a petitions section. In fact, why don't we have a wish-list page of what we want to have in our council site. I'll make the page now and see whether is is useful.

Josh Hart said

at 10:36 am on Sep 11, 2009

All good points. We're all different, need different things. It *is* a fairly complex thing to get right. As a starting point, I've started work on decoding the current site structure. In due course I hope to have a 'tree' of page titles that shows us how the current site is actually organised. I think this will be useful. As soon as I have completed this task (a few days, I'm busy) I'll share it here for others to analyse and review.

CountCulture said

at 3:08 pm on Sep 11, 2009

If anyone's going to have a go at the democracy side (councillors, meetings, committees, etc) it would be great if they could touch base with me (I'm the developer behind OpenlyLocal.com) -- I've had a look at it, and the issues involved. Most of the democracy stuff is actually on a different system, but has a whole other set of issues (cookies and javascript required), though there are ways around it, and I hope to have a play around with it all in a few days' time. If I mange it, the info can just be extracted from the feed at OpenlyLocal.com; if someone else does it, would be great if they could make the info available in a similar XML format -- this is the approach being taken by some of the nicer councils ;-)
Message me via this site or catch me on twitter @CountCulture or countculture at googlemail dot com

Ed Moore said

at 3:19 pm on Sep 11, 2009

Would it be possible to have some sort of digg-style upvoting and downvoting layered on top of the existing content so what people are after most automatically finds its way to the top?

As for the horrendous style, would it be that difficult for someone to knock up a script that sucks down all the content, strips it of crappy formatting and puts in all into a better CSS framework?

Marc Reeves said

at 4:53 pm on Sep 11, 2009

Rather than second-guess what users want, shouldn't / couldn't we ask a representative sample of citizens for their view? What would it take to get to get that data. Stef, didn't you mention something about BCU having a web usability lab? Could they come on board? I'd be happy to put an appeal out via the Post for 'normal' people (ie non-Twitterati tech / media luvvies) to volunteer as guineau pigs.

CountCulture said

at 5:07 pm on Sep 11, 2009

Just my 2p worth re where to focus energy/what do people want. This is a quote from Tim Berners Lee's Putting Government Online(http://www.w3.org/DesignIssues/GovData.html):

"Whatever else, the raw data should be made available as soon as possible. Preferably, it should be put up as Linked Data. As a third priority, it should be linked to other sources. As a lower priority, nice user interfaces should be made to it -- if interested communities outside government have not already done it."

i.e. if the info's there but the interface/design is crappy, we (the community) should rework the interface (as a start, someone could do something for the Firefox Stylish plugin -- host the code at github so people can fork and improve it);

However, if the data's buried and hard to use/find we should concentrate on getting the data out -- it's then easy to put a nice wrapper/interface on it.

Barnard said

at 9:21 pm on Sep 12, 2009

OK- A peoples "Birmingham.alternative.uk" site seems a brilliant idea

chrisivens said

at 11:07 pm on Sep 13, 2009

It's probably quite a task to get data form all different sources to form some sort of consistent look/feel. How many data sources are we looking at?

CountCulture said

at 11:18 pm on Sep 13, 2009

@chrisivens Shouldn't be too difficult if all we're talking about is structured data of some sort (e.g. XML). Several different scrapers are going to have to be done anyway, just because the structure of the site is such a mess (at least the democracy side is)

Stef Lewandowski said

at 10:30 am on Sep 14, 2009

Dave Briggs is collecting thoughts on what makes a good council website here: http://localgovweb.ideascale.com/akira/panel.do?id=5509

And please take 20 minutes to watch a TED talk by Tim Berners Lee on Linked Data:

A REST API for the city anyone?

Imagine if the city implemented YQL: http://developer.yahoo.com/yql/

Stef Lewandowski said

at 10:31 am on Sep 14, 2009

Hmm - that link has disappeared. Trying again:


Stef Lewandowski said

at 10:41 am on Sep 14, 2009

(trying html)

This is how we could do it: cross port all of the data into <a href="http://datatables.org">datatables.org</a>.

The we can do things like "SELECT * from birmingham_gov.councillors.search where ward='Hall Green'"

Sch01ar said

at 3:03 pm on Sep 14, 2009

Obviously the official .gov website is what it is, and Andy M his team will negotiate change with Service Birmingham in the years to come. And in that he needs all our support. But - this *is* an interesting idea! The primary purpose of any local authority site is to accurately convey statutory information, ensuring communications and accountability. The secondary purpose is to facilitate local democracy. The tertiary strand is to promote use of services. To take the first only; could a "community run" site ensure righteous contact details in real time? Can errors be corrected using social media alone? This is tasty stuff. Having spent time around each of the three .gov "regenerations" - the original lotus notes build, the morse cms and now the recent fatwire build; I'd caution against the uncritical spidering-in of the site's content, much of which has been accreted over time. Stef - I love your '24 hr jam' idea. Remember about 10 years back we kicked around a similar idea with Rob Sharl - a charity site in a day? Maybe we'd been drinking..

CountCulture said

at 3:49 pm on Sep 14, 2009

@Sch01ar Some good points there, particularly on timeliness and uncritical spidering. On OpenlyLocal.com I've currently set the updates to be weekly -- i.e. every week we check the local authority site and update for changes, and I get notified if there are any errors. Arguably this should be a much shorter time, at least for things like meeting agendas and minutes.

An alternative way is the traintimes/odeon approach where you essentially proxy in real-time, or near real-time.

Either way, the problem with the Birmingham website is that scraping is not a trivial task because the underlying structure is hidden by the static-page approach that's been taken by the fatwire build -- meaning lots of custom scrapers, which will inevitable be very brittle. The democracy side (which I've made a little progress on) will be a bit easier, although there are other issues there (javascript/cookie navigation for one).

Sch01ar said

at 4:45 pm on Sep 14, 2009

Yes indeed! Local democracy gives you the backbone of scheduled-in ward and constituency meetings, minutes and consultation documents to start with. I can see how you've done that on Openly Local, which is a great tool, by the way. As to the "static pages" issue - one of the draws of the Fatwire system -I was told - was it's ability to "asset-ise" content, so a change in one phone number, logo or date would be reflected across the site.

Stef Lewandowski said

at 8:47 pm on Sep 14, 2009

@sch01ar I do remember that 'charity site in a day' conversation and I since joined the Social Media Surgeries that happen once a month - we do that, but usually in about 2 hours instead. Eg. here's one I did with Jubille Debt: http://jdcbirmingham.wordpress.com/ (and it actually worked!)

Totally agree with these points guys.

Sch01ar said

at 10:49 pm on Sep 14, 2009

@stef - my wife sez - "Do you still have the table, the one with the little drawers?" :/
(1) JDC - nice; and even the BCC "Newsroom" runs on Wordpress and not on fatwire.
(2)Could Google Maps and these other tools people *actually use* be a start? - Simon from IDM and myself did a mini project for Edgbaston last July, on Post Office closures (http://www.oneedgbaston.org/downtheroad)and I was amazed how many people found it helpful. He gave ended up giving a talk to the Consultation Institute on it.
(3)Maybe what really excites me here is your idea of a collaborative "hack day - how much of this (or any) complex problem could be solved in a 24 hour summit?" (and a day should surely be a proper day - rave level endurance and shift working might be called on to make it a more interesting and authentic experience.

Stef Lewandowski said

at 7:14 pm on Sep 18, 2009

Hi everyone - I've done a bit of work on this this morning, and just put it up online.

We have:

All of the text content from the new site (I think) ripped into a MySQL database.
A Ruby on Rails front end, with each page on the existing site as a Page object.
A navigable front-end to the content as it stands.
A quick-search box on the main page that takes you to what you're looking for quickly.

This is very very early, but I'm pleased on progress so far!

Ideas, thoughts, offers of help, collaborations, suggestions, criticisms, anything - post it here!

I've spoken to Moseley Exchange and they are happy to host a 'hack day' if we think this is a good platform to work from. I think it is because we have Josh, me, a couple of others with Rails skills. Plus it's got XML/JSON baked in (add .xml to any url), so we have a REST API already.

There's no security as yet.

I'll post the source code somewhere for anyone to collaborate if there's interest.


Stef Lewandowski said

at 7:14 pm on Sep 18, 2009

What's with my urls every time I post?! Trying again...


adam buxton said

at 6:26 pm on Sep 21, 2009

Hi all,
i'd be interested in helping, my ruby is non existent at the moment, i'm primarily a php/mysql wordpress/drupal developer. i've moved to birmingham recently and still manage my clients in manchester.
but id like to get involved and see what can be done to help the moseley day sounds like a winner :)

Stuart Harrison said

at 8:57 pm on Sep 21, 2009

Planning scrapers are already sorta kinda built at http://code.google.com/p/planningalerts/, although the Birmingham scraper could be built upon to get more info and associated documents etc. The existing Planning Alerts API (http://planningalerts.com/apihowto.php) could be used to generate lists based on postcode too.

Keep us posted on the hackday, I'm not too well-versed in Ruby, but would be happy to help in any way I can. As a local gov webbie I'd like to think I can offer a bit of insight from 'the other side' so to speak (thanks for the mention of the Lichfield DC site by the way Stef)

Julia Gilbert said

at 1:32 pm on Sep 22, 2009

Hi all,

From a content point of view, I recommend looking at http://www.plainenglish.co.uk. In particular, the doc http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/files/howto.pdf is essential reading and http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/files/alternative.pdf is very useful too.

In summary, they recommend:

• Keep your sentences short
• Prefer active verbs
• Use 'you' and 'we'
• Use words that are appropriate for the reader
• Don't be afraid to give instructions
• Avoid nominalizations
• Use lists where appropriate

dandavies23 said

at 3:03 pm on Sep 22, 2009

I second @JuliaGilbert. I'd be happy to sub-edit the site if necessary. Was the site text going to be dumped on a wiki so it can be collectively looked at with changes tracked?

Stef Lewandowski said

at 3:16 pm on Sep 22, 2009

Hi all, sorry - I was busy hacking and missed your commends until now.

We are having a hack day this Friday: http://bccdiy.eventbrite.com - 9am until 8pm at Moseley Exchange (possibly later if we decide to go for a drink afterwards), drop in any time.

Adam - you would be most welcome - you'll pick up some stuff during the day, no doubt!

Stuart - that's brilliant, I'll check it out. Please come down too if you can make it, even if it's just after work...

Julia, Dan - thank you. The site won't be dumped elsewhere, I'm actually coding it up to have wiki-like functions, so you should be able to edit any page using the existing text as a starting point (I'm hoping).

We can then look at re-structuring the site to make more sense too...

Corinne Pritchard said

at 11:33 am on Sep 23, 2009

Hey guys,

Happy to help with copy editing (tis my thing, after all), but I'd really like to dig into the site structure IA and layout too because I know Jakob Nielsen says search is the future and all, but there's still something to be said for using *some* familiar web conventions if only to make non-techy's feel at home. Also writing is a barrier to some people and spelling even more so!

If we could do something to make it look a little less clunky in IE that would be handy. It's still the majority browser even if it's hateful and the unfortunate truth about a mass market website is that it has to work in the format that mass market uses. Bummer, though.

Helen Williams said

at 11:40 am on Sep 23, 2009

I've been following all this with great interest, as a reviewer for Socitm's 'Better Connected' which surveys council websites every year. I am fascinated to see what a community generated site will look like! It sounds as if you have plenty of ideas for functionality. I'd love to be able to get a text alert the day before my bin is due to be collected. Sounds simple but I don't know of any councils offering this exactly, so it probably isn't. Being able to see everything related to your property would be great - your councillor etc but also a huge range of nearest facilities, planning stuff etc etc. Brent does this is in a comprehensive way. I know you were looking for copy writers - they will find it useful to get inspiration from other local authority websites rather than write from scratch. I would suggest looking at those rated highly in the last Better Connected report - http://www.socitm.gov.uk/socitm/News/Press+Releases/20090302.htm and in particular see www.allerdale.gov.uk which had quite a bit of user testing and I think that shows. Good luck!

Julia Gilbert said

at 11:45 am on Sep 23, 2009

A couple of accessibility points that I picked up from working briefly with a representative from the Plain English Campaign some time ago regarding accessibility:

* People find lower case letters easier to read than upper case letters, so wherever possible use sentence case, including for titles.
* Avoid red text as people find this difficult to read.

I have added a Content page to this wiki to group together any further discussion about content.

Martin Wright said

at 11:27 am on Sep 24, 2009

I'm a local government webbie (from Shropshire) who would be glad to lend a hand. My main talent is in front end design and markup and I have plenty of experience to draw on, but I'm not adverse to copy editing or writing if necessary.

I can't make the hack day but will watching from afar :)

Stef Lewandowski said

at 7:28 pm on Sep 24, 2009

Hi Martin - I've added a twitter feed to the home page so you can see activity as it happens, and I'm sure we'll have a liveblog / chat room or something to follow during the day.

Any ideas on that most welcome...

Stef Lewandowski said

at 7:33 pm on Sep 24, 2009

@Helen - thanks for the links. If you have any others you'd like to suggest we have a look at for inspiration tomorrow, that would be great.

A big question - what are the main tasks that people want to do when they come to a council site? Do they differ from place to place? Are there standards?

Martin Wright said

at 9:17 pm on Sep 24, 2009

From personal experience: Find jobs, renew library books, pay council tax, find when bins are collected, report problems (missed bin, broken streetlight etc), planning applications (apply, comment and view) these tend to be constants but there are some seasonal ones (school term times or swimming times are most popular in school holidays for example). I work for a unitary so I'm not too sure which a city council is responsible for :)

Helen Williams said

at 9:19 pm on Sep 24, 2009

Off the top of my head, council job vacancies and planning applications are pretty much always popular. The last time I accessed data from Socitm's website take-up service some time ago I was amazed at the range of reasons people gave for visiting council websites. I suppose with 800 odd unique services provided by a council it's not that surprising. They do differ from place to place. Westminster, for example, had above average number of people coming onto the site to pay parking fines. A rural district council wouldn't get many people doing that. Some areas are more 'touristy' than others too which can attract different types of enquiry. For Birmingham, your nearest comparisons will I suppose be Manchester (e.g. Salford's site is good) and the London boroughs (of which there are 32). But it will be interesting for all of us local gov webbies to see what ideas a group of non-council volunteers comes up with, as opposed to council employees who have masterminded all of these sites. You also don't have the constraints of internal politics etc influencing what goes on the home page.

Helen Williams said

at 9:21 pm on Sep 24, 2009

Cross-posted with Martin - that's a pretty good list.

Helen Williams said

at 10:34 pm on Sep 24, 2009

Great news that some BCC people are going to the hack day. They may be able to provide insights into top tasks from their web analytics. It's a shame that Birmingham does not subscribe to the Website Take-up Service or you could have asked them for results from that.

Helen Williams said

at 10:48 pm on Sep 24, 2009

Last suggestion - see State of Utah website - www.utah.gov

derek cooper said

at 9:03 am on Oct 7, 2009

I hope I'm putting this suggestion into the right place as I've only just registered and have not had time to explore the site fully. The Residents Association I belong too in the Soho Ward has recently asked me to start building a web site to enable the people within its scope to have 24/7 access to information etc. regarding the activities/campaigns/concerns etc run by the Association and to provide links to council services etc. We are in the very early stages with our site http://www.lodgepark.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk but hope to eventually develop it to be significantly more information rich resource.
My question is, could there be a page of links on this site to residents, tenants groups who have their own web sites that must exist around Birmingham so as to make it easier for people who might have similar campaigns/problems/interests etc to contact each other so as to share experiences and pool resources etc.
Also a list of people who are willing to help with the development of Group web sites where they don't already have, but are looking to develop one as an added resource.

iain smith said

at 12:30 pm on Feb 20, 2010

looks like you have some links inserted to outside companies by persons unknown.

logodesigns1@... said

at 9:23 am on Apr 21, 2010

<a href="http://www.logoinn.com">Web site Design</a>

logodesigns1@... said

at 9:49 am on May 22, 2010

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at 7:37 pm on May 26, 2010

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