… Council Websites

November 22, 2010 at 1:49 pm 4 comments

Public Toilets are run by the council. So if you want to know where they are you’ll find the information on the council website.

I’m not suggesting that this is a particularly convenient way to find out where the toilet is if you need the toilet, but you might be planning ahead or particularly concerned about finding facilities (which you would be if you have problems with incontinence, or if  you’re caring for someone else, or responsible for a group trip, to give some examples).

And with more councils starting and promoting their community toilet schemes, the information for residents and visitors on which businesses are participating is also to be found online. (Some also make printed maps. I love them.)

A few months ago I was on a committee looking at ways to design out crime in public toilets. One thing that we decided to do was to each look at the council websites of Hertfordshire and report back.

It wasn’t a particularly scientific experiment but just the act of being forced to look at and compare 10 different neighbouring councils’ websites threw up more examples of some basic problems regarding public toilet provision. And council websites.

Hertfordshire is typical of public toilet provision in that the toilets are provided at District Council level.

This rather bothers me because if we look at the examples (that I made up) of who might be looking at a council website for toilet information (those with incontinence problems, those caring for someone else, or responsible for a group trip) it by no means implies that you’re looking for toilets in your own district council. You’re more likely visiting a new area, so firstly you’ll have to figure out which district council that is.

Anyways, In Hertfordshire there are 10:

  • Broxbourne Borough Council
  • Dacorum Borough Council
  • East Herts Council
  • Hertsmere Borough Council
  • North Hertfordshire District Council
  • St Albans City & District Council
  • Stevenage Borough Council
  • Three Rivers District Council
  • Watford Borough Council
  • Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council

Apart from very varying levels of information about the toilets, there were big differences in how to find the information.

Ok it probably doesn’t sound like a big issue, but just whether the council (and the user) refers to the page as ‘public toilets’ or ‘public conveniences’ affects the search results.

I searched for ‘public toilets’ on each of the 10 sites:

  • 3 sites gave the correct page as the top result.
  • 2 more had it somewhere in a list of possible matches
  • and for 4 it’s buried if returned at all

(I don’t have results for the 10th council because they don’t have a webpage for their public toilets. Except that when I went to the next committee meeting and compared results I found that they do! I just genuinely never found it. Humph.)

In fact the A-Z search function made it easier to find the right page generally because both Public Toilets and Public Conveniences begin with a P (although Community Toilets doesn’t. Nor Toilets. In fact I’m inclined to agree with Adrian Short in his criticism of Council Websites that A-Z Navigation is redundant)

Personally I always like searching through the tree menus. I don’t know why; perhaps because I’m used to finding things that way on a phone. Or perhaps because I don’t know the correct search term for whatever it is that I’m looking for. Or because when I do search I get 5 pages of results, can’t immediately see what I want, and lose heart, so return to the main menu. In any case, this is what they’re designed for – to help people find the right page, especially if they’re not sure how to describe what they want.

But finding public toilets this way is impossible. I’m certain that this is because councils structure these categories to reflect how the council actually works, rather than by what would make most sense to the user.

Which means that in the 10 Hertfordshire district councils, public toilet provision comes under:

  • Environment & Planning
  • Environment & Streetcare
  • Environment
  • East Herts Towns & Villages
  • Community & Living
  • Transport & Streets

So in 8 different councils there are 6 different names for the first level of the menu (And in 2 it didn’t seem to fall under anything.)

7 of them then have another level of menu – generally something to do with ‘Streetcare & Cleaning’ or ‘Road & Pathway Maintenance’.

I’m probably being picky, but if I was looking for information about public toilets I wouldn’t think ‘now, where’s the section on Road & Pathway Maintenance’. This seems designed from the council’s perspective – ‘public toilets are something to be cleaned and maintained’ rather than the public model – ‘public toilets are a physical building to be used by residents and visitors, provided by the council’. From that perspective I’d suggest councils find out where the libraries are in the council website, and stick public toilets there.

Except they’re in ‘Education & Learning’. So maybe not.

For what it’s worth, East Herts Council was my favourite, not just for their tree heirarchy but for the information on each facility and their Community Toilet Scheme maps and, well, everything.

North Hertfordshire District Council could learn a thing or two. I’d insert a link here to show you how bad it is (a blank page with the words ‘public toilets’ at the top, if memory serves).

But I can’t find it.


Entry filed under: Service Design. Tags: , , , , .

… Public Consultation … Crime

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alasdair  |  April 15, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    Hi Gail,

    I work on the East Herts web team – I was checking through our analytics referrals and saw your blog in our incoming referrals list. I didn’t recognise the domain, so popped over to have a look.

    I’m genuinely delighted you liked our website.

    It’s far from perfect – we’re still working on getting geocoded information up there, and getting properly “mobile device friendly” is still on the agenda… but it’s kinda made my Friday that we rank as your favourite out of the 10 Districts in Herts.


  • 2. … Local Directgov « Public Toilets and …  |  November 30, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    […] The pages that you find are of very mixed quality, something I’ve highlighted before. […]

  • 3. … Council Websites (London) « Public Toilets and …  |  December 19, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    […] a bit rich coming from me, who has previously said that a council website is the last place anyone would think to look when in need of a toilet. The […]

  • […] partially highlight the variety in the information given by different councils either by FOI or website, i.e. what they consider a ‘public […]


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