MPs condemn lack of usage data

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee published its latest report on ‘Government on the Internet: Progress in delivering information and services online‘ a few weeks back. Much of it was pretty predictable: we know we don’t have an exact figure for the number of websites, we know we aren’t always brilliant on accessibility, and we’ve heard the social exclusion argument countless times (although we haven’t heard much from the Cabinet Minister responsible).
(Correction: I see Paul Murphy gave his first speech as Minister for Digital Inclusion a week or two back. Details on the Puffbox-produced Wales Office website… and hey, also available in Welsh.)
But its conclusions include some genuinely worrying data. ‘16% of government organisations have no data about how their websites are being used,’ it tells us – what, none at all? I’ve come across a few in my time, but never feared it was quite that many. Unforgivable in these post-Google Analytics days, surely. A quarter could provide no data on costs. Only 19% provided a full picture on cost and usage.
I’m not sure I can accept the assertion, based on NAO data, that ‘overall the quality (of government websites) has improved only slightly since 2001 and one in six sites has become significantly worse’. But it leads to an interesting aside, which seems to call for government departments to embrace user-generated content..?

The National Audit Office found that many government websites have yet to adopt approaches now commonplace among leading private sector websites. These include allowing users to post content onto websites and to provide comments about the services and information provided. … Some government sites are piloting such facilities, and some are well established including the online petitions facility on the 10 Downing Street website and the Department of Health’s feedback and testimonials site for NHS patients.

But perhaps the most striking recommendation of all is the proposal that ‘no new (websites) should be established without the agreement of the Government’s Chief Information Officer in the Cabinet Office’. That might be enforceable on a domain name level… but it surely can’t be workable in terms of subdomains or microsites. (And that’s before we think about areas on external community sites, whose usage was endorsed by the Power Of Information work.)