Council Websites: Time for a New Approach to Navigation?

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If you spend any amount of time on different council websites (like I do, sad as I am), you’ll noticed that most of them will have a similar navigation structure, starting with categories like Advice and Benefits, Environment and Planning, Transport and Streets etc.

This is known as the Local Government Navigation List (or LGNL), and it’s been going since the early days of eGovernment (remember that?), backed up by a steering group of people who shape and mould the list as time goes on.

I’ve been of the opinion that it is in serious need of reexamining for some time now - I don’t feel it’s customer focussed, there are too many levels and it can, in some cases be far too detailed for a council website navigation.

That said, I’ve shrugged my shoulders and put up with it, as for some time I’ve believed that the future of website navigation is search. Why put up with clicking endless links when you can just type a few words in and (generally) get to what you’re looking for. It’s what I do and what (I assumed) most people would do too.

However, you know what they say about assumption, and I was surprised to see that, in their latest redesign, the team are dropping the idea of a big search bar on the homepage, and going back to good old fashioned navigation.

You can see more about their rationale on the blog post, but, suffice to say, it’s backed up by hours of testing with real users, the same sort of users that we have on our council’s website, and it does makes sense.

This leaves us with a problem, if search isn’t the way forward, where does that leave LGNL? If, as I think, LGNL is in serious need of looking at, then what can we do?

I put up a Google doc yesterday to kick around a few ideas, and already, I could see it was becoming monolithic, exactly like the LGNL I would like to see killed off. So what is the future?

I believe we need a user tested, people focused navigation system, with no more than two levels, but one that isn’t prescriptive, and can be moulded and shifted to meet the needs of a particular council. Maybe this is something that any potential local GDS can do?

I don’t have all the answers, but I think it’s a discussion we need to have. As always, let’s have those thoughts in the comments.