A Minimum Viable LocalGov Web Analytics Platform

(this first appeared on my Wordpress blog on 5 April 2016, I’ve re-surfaced it here because the issues it covers have been raised again in our 2018 local gov web survey https://thesatorilab.com/localgovweb and we probably want to refer to it)

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about what a jolly good idea it would be if we could pull all Council website stats into one place.

As a next step in this journey I’ve set up a minimum viable analytics platform.

It’s very minimum. Out of the 400+local authorities, it features data from 2.

They are

East Sussex, my favourite council in this space, which publishes on data.gov.uk a Google account that will give anyone read access to their Google Analytics property

North Yorkshire, which doesn’t publish an account like East Sussex but kindly set one up to allow me to experiment.

So. The first order of business is to pull some data out of their Google Analytics account. I wanted to use the Google Analytics add-on for Google Sheets because it makes life very easy.

Each spreadsheet has to be tied to one Google Account. In this that meant having to create 2 spreadsheets. Luckily I was able create each spreadsheet on Google Drive using the account details I had been given (yes I can see a problem with this too: bear with).

So I created a spreadsheet for each account and used the Add On to run some simple reports. Then I gave myself access to those spreadsheets and copied their contents into a Spreadsheet of my own devising.

And was able to draw a nice graph of sessions per month for each council.

It would be straightforward to add more councils in the same way if they published an account as these two have. I don’t think that’s the solution though.

Creating a Google Account and publishing the password is a really attractive idea but it does enable people to use Google services completely anonymously. They might well want to do that for nefarious reasons. The risk is pretty low whilst only one or two councils does it but the risk would grow significantly if it became standard practice.

This is annoying of course but there we are. What could we do instead?

  • We could encourage councils to run a standard set of reports and publish these. Google Sheets would be a neat way of doing this because the integration is simple and the data can be pulled out in many useful formats.
  • We could set up a series of localgovernmentawesomewebstats@gmail.com (that’s not me if it exists) accounts and ask councils to grant us access to their properties. That would save them the trouble of having to schedule reports and we could hand their data back to them nicely
  • We could ask councils to submit annual returns from their websites in a nice simple form
  • We could do all of those and give councils the choice

Going through this process makes me see why the US Government uses its own tracking script for Federal Departments and Websites. From my point of view that would be the most satisfactory approach but 650,000,000 visits a year probably equates to 1.5bn records a year so that’s not a project we’re going to manage successfully as a spare time endeavour.

But I’d really like to hear from others on this.

Originally published at benproctor.co.uk on April 5, 2016.