Saturday, October 02, 2010

DPP website up and running, but its usability is still desperately poor

If you wanted to learn more about your local District Policing Partnership, you might end up on the DPP website looking for details about upcoming public meetings and newsletters. For many months last year and earlier this year, it wasn’t functioning. But the good news is that the site has been up and running since May.

There’s a welcoming map and a postcode search box. An East Belfast resident might type in BT4 and click Go.

Clickable map and postcode search on DPP homepage

Landing on the Belfast DPP welcome page, you’d probably click on the Meetings in Public link.

Belfast DPP menu

From the menu on the right hand side (unusual place for a navigation bar, but consistent across the site nonetheless) you’d see that the Belfast was broken up into four subgroups: West, East, South and North. The text in the main body of the page explains:

Each of the Sub-Groups will hold four meetings in public per year.

To view the dates of these meetings please go to the calendar.

But the word calendar isn’t a clickable link, and there’s nothing obvious on the right hand menu suggesting where the calendar might be found.

Clicking on the East Belfast Sub-Group Minutes link, you’ll be able to read the historic minutes of public and private meetings of the sub-group, all the way up to the end of March 2010. Nothing more recent than six months ago – an eternity for a group that meets in private on average five times a year and signs off the previous set of minutes at each new private meeting.

DPP East Belfast sub-group private minutes

Maybe there’ll be a Local Press Release under the right hand News Room link? Nothing since September 2004.

Or a mention under the Local Newsletter link? I’m afraid not.

“This part of the site is currently under construction.”

Under FAQ you’ll learn that

“Members of the public have the right to ask questions of the police, through the Chairmen of the Sub-Groups … In order to ensure that your question is tabled at a Sub-Group meeting in public it must be received in writing or by e-mail by the Secretary to the District Policing Partnership at the undernoted address at least ten days before the date of the meeting.”

But finding out 10 days in advance when a meeting in East Belfast will occur is not easy!

If you go out of the Belfast DPP section and all the way back to the DPP home page and click on its Meetings in Public link – which isn’t primarily where the site was leading you with its map and postcode search facility – and click on Event Calendar you can look up the current month and see if your local DPP or DPP subgroup is meeting in public.

Searching DPP calendar for meetings in October 2010

From a usability point of view, people are much more likely to want to search by DPP/subgroup than to see all the meetings being held across Northern Ireland in a particular month.

DPP calendar for October 2010

Anyway, East Belfast isn’t mentioned under October 2010.

Which is odd. Since the excellent Wandsworth News bulletin recently delivered through post boxes across Belmont and Ballyhackamore is trailing a DPP Public Consultation in the Park Avenue Hotel on Tuesday 5 October at 7pm.

extract from Wandsworth News community news sheet advertising local East Belfast DPP meeting

So if you want to hear “the local Police Area Commander [presenting] a report on how his officers have undertaken their duties and what effect this has had on crime in their area” or as a member of the public “have the opportunity to question the Area Commander about any matter affecting the policing of the local district”, don’t expect the DPP to use its own website to announce that opportunity.

Even if the meeting was publicised on the DPP website, the usability is so poor that many people would give up searching before they the date and location could be unearthed.

Instead rely on a local community newsletter to get the news out.

Update - Monday 4 October - The DPP Officer for East (and North) Belfast replies that the event is a public consultation event, distinct from an open meeting of the DPP subgroup.

"The meeting advertised in the local East Belfast press to be held on 5th October, 2010, is a Public Consultation Event. This event allows the East Belfast DPP Sub-Group to consult with local people in order to gain opinions that will be used in the formulation of the Local Policing Priorities for East Belfast in 2010/11. The meeting is going ahead and is open to the general public. Public Consultation Events are not advertised on the DPP website.

The next Meeting in Public for East Belfast DPP Sub-Group will be held in the Belmont Tower, Belmont Church Road, Belfast, on Tuesday 16 November, 2010 at 7pm. The DPP website is currently being updated to include this meeting."

The June minutes are in the process of going online.

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