Headlines: July 22nd, 2002

Police websites are lagging behind many other public service sites in terms of content and interactivity, according to a new survey.SOCITM, the society for IT managers in public service, organised a survey of all 59 UK police force websites. ‘Better Connected: The Police’ reports on examining the sites from a variety of possible user perspectives:

– an 11 year old boy suffering from bullying at school

– a black student thinking about joining the police service

– a victim of mugging, dissatisfied at her treatment

– a newly retired person interested in setting up a neighbourhood watch scheme.

The research findings show that no force has yet achieved SOCITM’s top status of ‘transactional’ – defined as accessible, complete, coherent, thoughtful about user needs, and driven by self-service values.

Seven police websites were rated as ‘content plus’ sites – providing very useful content and more advanced online self-service features. 26 sites were rated as ‘content’ sites – providing useful content and some interaction. Such sites typically have more sophisticated promotional information (e.g. downloadable files), site search facilities, some user interaction (e.g. clicking on a map to find local police stations) and email and online feedback on home pages.

A further 26 sites were described as being at the preliminary, promotional stage – providing basic promotional information with very little scope for interaction through email or online.

The top five force websites were named as Avon & Somerset, Essex, Metropolitan, Thames Valley and West Midlands Police.

There was a warning that individual forces should not rely on national projects to deliver everything required to fill the gaps identified by the survey. It points out that policing is essentially a locally delivered service, and the forthcoming national police portal, for example, is unlikely to be able to deal with information that has to be collected locally. It recommends Forces invest in continual improvement in order to gain experience in managing both the information and the technology. The lesson from the more advanced local authority websites is that content management is hard work and does not happen overnight.

Copies of the report cost 85 pounds to none SOCITM members and can be ordered from www.socitm.gov.uk