countculture

Open data and all that

Online services provided by your council: rewiring LocalDirectGov

with 8 comments

One of the things I’ve had on my ToDo list for OpenlyLocal for a while was providing a a list of links to online services provided by each Local Authority.

Seemed like something that should be on the site, and available as structured data; it also looked like it should be fairly easy to do, as it’s a service that’s sort of provided by central government (LocalDirectGov), though with some shortcomings.

The problem is that from a usability point of view the Local DirectGov interface is a bit clunky. First you choose the service you want the link for, which means using an A-Z (always a bit of a problem). This is the landing page, and as you can see you’re on the A’s.

LocalDirectGov landing page

So let’s say you want Hazardous Waste. Is that under H or W? Actually it’s under W, so click on W, and then on “Waste – Hazardous” and a new window opens (why?). You then need to enter your postcode, town or council in a form and you’ll then be (usually) given a link to click through to get to the council page.

However, depending on what you put in there and what category you want you may be asked to choose a particular council or be told that you council does not provide the service online:

 

LocalDirectGov no service

Frustrating.

Now there is a limited way for external websites to interact with this service, using the ‘white-label’ Local DirectGov application. There’s even a case study. Basically, you download a list of services provided by each type of council, and then build a LocalDirectGov URL, which redirects to the council service.

Terrific. Not hard to do, even for a coder as slow as me. The only problem is that it doesn’t work. For the end user that is.

The thing is, there’s no way of knowing whether the local authority actually provides a given service online, and there’s a fair chance that the URL you’ve just built up will resolve to a bog-standard contact page, or even worse non-existent page resulting in a 404 error. Not great for users, and there appears no way of programmatically finding out if link will work, even though it’s there in Local DirectGov’s database (which is how it says that the service isn’t provided).

So, we’ve tried to fix on OpenlyLocal this and provide a better version. First we’ve collected up the useful data for each authority (i.e. where there’s a specific page to that subject, and not a 404 or generic “contact us” page). Then we’ve put it all on one page, and made it searchable too. It’s clean, simple, and works:

Council Services list

You can also search it from the main council page if you want to in an Ajaxy live-search way (obviously the search also works without javascript, for screenreaders and other text browsers):

Council page with services search

 

Finally, you can access the data through the API as XML or JSON. So far, we’ve done a little over half the local authorities, and should have all the rest done by sometime next week (it’s just a matter of tying the remaining local authorities to their LocalDirectGov IDs, which has to be done manually).

As ever, comments, bug reports and feature requests welcome.

Written by countculture

October 27, 2009 at 4:49 pm

8 Responses

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  1. […] John Denham speech: Openness of data is important for local government RSA speechRewiring LocalDirectGov OpenlyLocal […]

  2. Great work, as usual. OpenlyLocal seems to be turning into a great resource!

    tim green

    October 30, 2009 at 4:18 pm

  3. Fascinating. And well done to you for giving it a go!

    The usability of Local Directgov (and the wider Directgov) has always sucked in my opinion. Your development will probably (hopefully) nudge Directgov to do something practical about it.

    x333xxx

    November 7, 2009 at 3:06 pm

  4. “it’s just a matter of tying the remaining local authorities to their LocalDirectGov IDs, which has to be done manually” – LA LDG IDs are on the eGov Register at http://www.brent.gov.uk/egr.nsf/WebViews/Local+Authorities+-+Reference+IDs

    brentcouncil

    November 8, 2009 at 11:39 am

  5. Doh! Thanks Dane. Should have thought of the eGov Register and saved myself the 30 mins doing it manually.

    countculture

    November 10, 2009 at 4:08 pm

  6. It might be worth making use of the Local Government Services List LGSL http://esd.org.uk/standards/lgdsl/ As most LAs use this as metadata (dcterms: subject)on the relevant page.

    If this works then it may encourage LAs to make more/ better use of the LGSL.

    There are a number of other projects in the pipeline that will be hoping to use pages marked up with LGSL.

    Keep up the great work. It’s inspiring

    martinrstone

    November 11, 2009 at 9:32 am

  7. Chris

    I’ve only just seen your article and this comment.

    It’s great that you’re using LGSL. That’s the whole point of the standards implemented and made publicly available by local government through esd-toolkit.

    The site under construction at http://doc.esd.org.uk/ use linked data techniques to publish all the controlled lists. More documentation will follow.

    You can see the LGSL services at: http://id.esd.org.uk/lgsl/3.07/laexternalservices

    Take a look at the references tab for LA website pages that reference the service. This references LA pages that have the LGSL service referenced in their HTML tags.

    We can probably extend that to include references passed to Local Directgov for most English local authorities if you have a use for it.

    Good work. Keep in touch.

    Mike Thacker

    November 19, 2009 at 9:12 am


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