Virtual Neighbourhoods, Virtual Nations
Local Councils Making Communities

NET 24 - Case Study - Jo Byron

Local residents and businesses will only use a website if the information is useful and relevant. The local council website is a gateway for free community information, this includes the standard services offered to the community. Across four continents, almost all the websites addressed (in some way) the issues of community health, education, housing, emergency services, utilities and roads.

These are fairly basic needs within a community, consequently they form the core services offered. Interestingly, all the websites also provided information on a host of other items such as environmental matters, youth projects, senior citizens' programs etc. Each individual region also gave space to issues which are specific to that community i.e. local coastal erosion, greening a vacant lot instead of commercial development, school facilties etc.

However, in terms of community building, local services alone will not encourage people to use and interact with the site. It seems that these local authority sites have now included cultural events and local attractions. They have emerged as a "place" for groups to advertise themselves locally (and further abroad), and often include employment opportunities on the website. They also act as portals to other sites detailing local information. The impression being given is that councils are no longer just acting as conduits for rates and by-laws. The websites are emphasising the changing image of the local council and how they play a pivotal, social role in the active community.

The research also showed a dual purpose arising, that of tourism. This aspect sometimes happened by default as a result of information and images being published for residents, although more often, it appears as
a very obvious act on behalf of the council in order to encourage visitors into the local area, thus
providing potential commercial opportunities for the local community.


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