The benefits of having a website and how it can help your organisation...

Contents

The Internet
Why a website for your organisation or council?
What to use your website for?
Saves time and money
Stay connected with your community
Stay connected with each other
What should be on your website?
What not to post on your website?
Who controls it? Who updates it?
Managing your website
Quality Parish Status for parish and town councils

The Internet

From humble beginnings the Internet has grown into the most valuable free information tool known to mankind. Millions of people around the world are using the Internet every second to communicate, research or entertain. Personal computers are becoming part of our everyday life, most office workers will have a computer and more and more homes have them – often within their main living space. The Internet is moving into all aspects of our lives. It is now available on mobile phones and certain televisions. Television and radio programs constantly refer to websites with additional information and advice.

The Government sees the Internet as a vital tool for connecting and communicating with the public and within the next five years many Government services will be delivered primarily online.

Why a website for your organisation or council?

The Internet is becoming an integral part of our society; many people now use the Internet as their primary source of information. There is a growing expectation that information from all kinds of organisations can be found online.
Anyone can create and publish a website. Therefore, it is important to have a website that represents accurate and up-to-date views and information. A website offers your citizens a simple means of finding out what your organisation or council is doing and is a way of communicating with a wider public.

What to use your website for?

Your website can be used to: 

  • Offer 24 hour access to information
  • Improve access to services
  • Gain feedback on local issues from the community
  • Improve contact with your organisation
  • Publicise meetings, issues and events 
  • Provide information for visitors and tourists

Parish and town Councils can:

  • Raise awareness of the important role of the Council
  • Meet legal requirements for publishing Council information

The responsibility for maintaining the website can be given to one person (e.g. the parish clerk for councils) or shared by several members of your organisation. essexinfo.net makes it very easy for you to set up a website – no technical knowledge or particular skills are required.

 Saves Time and Money

There are increasing demands on our time and having a website can help relieve the pressure – saving your organisation, and community members, time and money.

  • Instant access to information will reduce the number of day to day enquires that have to be handled personally.
  • Dissemination of information on-line will reduce time taken for printing and posting. 
  • Large documents can be instantly published and available at the users’ convenience. 
  • Information can be added, appended or deleted instantly ensuring that the web site is accurate. 
  • Activities and details are available 24-hours a day allowing access whenever the user requires – particularly useful for tourists or shift workers.

A council website will also direct the local community to the councillors dealing with specific issues and if an issue is not the responsibility of your council, community members can be pointed to the correct local or central service provider.

Stay Connected with your Community

A website will improve communication between your organisation or council and the local community.  Often, websites allow the local community to give feedback either through a simple online form or via discussion forums. Feedback forms are more direct and private; discussion forums are interactive and open to the whole community.

Websites can also be used as a survey point, collecting opinion from local people – asking specific questions to get the answers you need.

All three of these may be used for:

  • Planning applications
  • Local topics of interest or concern 
  • Provision of new services 
  • Parish plans 
  • Campaigns

Stay Connected with Each Other

A closed ‘members area’ that is available to members only can be developed to share information.

Such an area can be tremendously useful, you can use it to:

  • Provide additional information on issues
  • Distribute draft documents
  • Offer personal views and opinion
  • Approve minutes and agendas
  • Invite members to contribute to agendas
  • Discuss agenda items and other issues
  • Communicate between committees 
  • Provide contact details 
  • Publicise Emergency procedures

What should be on your Website?

A website is there to allow your organisation to communicate with and inform the local community. Content needs to be relevant and easily found, think about including these categories:

  • About Us 
  • Contact Numbers 
  • Councillor Names and Responsibilities 
  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) 
  • Hot Topics/Issues and Latest News 
  • Meeting Dates & AGMs
  • Minutes & Agendas 
  • News and Events 
  • Planning 
  • Policy and Reports 
  • Useful Links

There are other features that could be included too:

  • Games, Quizzes and Puzzles
  • Local Business Directory 
  • Message Forum 
  • Newsletters 
  • Photo Gallery 
  • Surveys

What not to post on your website?

You must not post the following on the public facing website:

  • Confidential information 
  • Commercially sensitive material
  • Party political comment (councils and councillors)

And remember to think carefully about the content before you post up:

  • Draft minutes
  • Draft agendas 
  • Draft reports

If your website has a ‘members only’ area then much of this more sensitive information should reside there. When drafts are approved then they can be assigned to the public area.

Who controls it? Who updates it?

It can be useful if the control of your website resides with more than one trusted person, this ensures that there is never too much expectation on one individual and provides a back up if one person moves on.

For councils the Parish Clerk will often be one of the people to take on this responsibility, but if no one on the Council feels confident to do this, then you may find enthusiastic local volunteers can help you.

As your website grows, you may find it helpful to designate responsibility for different areas of the site to relevant individuals. You may decide to have a website group/committee or councils may discuss website content as part of your regular meetings.

Managing your website

essexinfo.net makes the process of owning a website easy by offering a free website which is simple and straightforward to build yourself. The website is also hosted (made available to all on the world wide web – www) and supported.

There are three phases to a website; doing the initial build, maintaining it and promoting it.

Initial Build. It can be useful to form a group of interested parties within your organisation, decide on a Webmaster and assign several editors who can help in contributing.

Maintaining. You need to make sure that the content on the site is up to date. Always check that:

  • meeting dates are correct
  • minutes of meetings are posted as soon as possible
  • names and contact details are correct

Promoting. It is vital that you tell your community what the address of your website is. The ‘How to Get the Most from Your Website’ page has lots of useful information on the best ways to promote your website.

Quality Parish Status for Parish & Town Councils

A good website can give your Council a great start towards Quality Status. Councils with good websites are seen as responsible and in-touch with their communities. Websites can only serve to enhance relationships with other local councils, principal authorities and community and voluntary sector organisations.

  • Communicate with your public – reinforcing electoral mandate. 
  • Strengthen your role within the community by responding to community wishes and acting as a voice for the local area.
  • Assist with the Parish Plan. 
  • Contribute to the Annual Report. 
  • The publishing and scrutiny of public accounts. 
  • Help in the management of the Council. 
  • Have a published code of conduct for the community to see. 
  • Act as a reference point for local services.

You can have the same quality of website whether your Council is large or small. The same online facilities are available to all Councils.

For more information on Quality Parish Status you can visit the site of the National Association of Local Councils