What Local Authorities Can Learn From the Birmingham City Council DIY Project

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BCC DIY logo In case you’ve had your head buried in a good few feet of sand, then you’ll know all about the issues surrounding the new Birmingham City Council website. I won’t get into it too much here, but, suffice to say, the project was over budget, late and didn’t deliver half of what is expected from a modern website.

We’re all aware of over budget government schemes that deliver less than the sum of their parts, but the interesting stuff didn’t stop there, in fact, it’s only just started - a group of passionate web type people (developers, designers, proofreaders and the like) have got together to build BCC DIY, a site that tries to give the people of Birmingham a better web experience.

As well as scraping the existing content of the original Birmingham City Council site (and publishing it in a wiki format - so people can edit and change at will), it also brings in external tools, such as FixMyStreet and Planning Alerts, so people can see, at a glance, what’s going on in their area.

The work really got going last Friday with a hack day up at Moseley Exchange (which I wanted to get to, but sadly car trouble prevented me) where people from across Birmingham (and beyond - Al Smith - Newcastle City Council’s Web 2.0 guy, made a special trip down for the occasion) got together for a big heave ho to get the project up and running.

The results, while not reflective of a fully formed project (yet), are impressive, and for me, as a local government webbie, really interesting.

While usability studies can tell us a lot, they are often informed by our own ideas and prejudices. BCC DIY shows us the kind of website that people who spend a lot of time on the web (and often work in the sector too) want from a website and gives us a fresh view of local government online.

Obviously, what ‘web people’ want from a website may well be different from what less web savvy people want, but it’s a viewpoint, and one that reflects the views of a lot of our users. I’m continuing to watch with interest.