Headlines: November 10th, 1997

Elected councillors and officers of local authorities are overloaded with information from the Local Government Association. This is one of the key findings of the MORI Survey which examined communication between the LGA and member authorities.The Survey revealed that although the information provided by the LGA was timely, topical and relevant: “everybody gets everything”. As a result of this deluge of information the important messages often fail to get through. Elected members felt particularly that the arrangements are not meeting their need. They believe that they are less well informed than officers.

Information overload is a long standing problem and there have been proposals to target information to those who have a direct concern in the topic. The Survey included a question on targeting, but the majority of Chief Executives were unwilling to let go the responsibility for deciding who receives the information. Only one in five were willing to let the LGA do the targeting for them.

Survey respondents constantly referred to the Internet as the way forward to solve the overload problem in the medium to long term and the LGA are exploring ways in which a solution might be developed. A project is on the stocks to set up an LGA Intranet which would be extended to member authorities through an Extranet. In view of the imminent White Paper on Freedom of Information and the focus this will bring to open government, much of the material on the Extranet would be available to the public on the Internet.

The technical hurdles of setting up an LGA Internet/Extranet would not present any great difficulties. The real challenge would be at the user end. Although the majority of authorities will soon have access to the Internet, familiarity with its use among elected members is described as ‘variable’. A significant shift in attitude would be required before an electronic approach could be regarded as the ultimate solution to the information overload problem.