The value of councils doing live election results on the website

First of all, let me shamelessly insert my joke about the BBC's election coverage:

Young people, ask your parents what Progressive Rock was.

Most of my articles, whilst I tend to be reluctant to say 'this is what you should do', I have a general stance of 'this is what I think, and I think you'd benefit from agreeing with me'. This one it really is a case of my not suggesting whether I think you should actually do a live online election results service or not, rather I'm putting the idea into your head to consider whether or not you need to do it, or whether other agencies are doing the job sufficiently well that actually your resources might best be directed in other areas.

To be clear, I'm absolutely not suggesting election results should not be on council websites - election results should absolutely be on them. The thinking I'm about to share is based on my own past experience of being part of the election night show, but I've not actually done it for, oo, nearly 10 years, and indeed I've not had access to Google Analytics to see how popular live election results pages on a council website actually are for a few years now.

When we as the Corporate Webteam first started doing live results on the website, it was a big deal not just for the team but for the wider corporate communications function in which we sat at the time; the BBC News online service for local results was still fairly nascent in its coverage, and Twitter didn't even exist. Because we were part of corporate comms, who also had responsibilities to the results declarations event at the count, it was natural that we'd be fully involved. A member of our team acted as Producer and Stage Manager for the show, securing a company to provide the A/V tech for the event, and our team as well as doing the website sorted out PowerPoint slides to be projected behind the Returning Officer as he announced the results for all the constituencies and wards in our area. We generally aimed for high production values overall - we wanted our stage to look good when the TV news cut to it for a declaration. And one year, whilst online live video streaming was still fairly new, we worked with a local radio personality to put on a proper election night TV show, with interviews and analysis through the night which rivalled a BBC broadcast and was especially well received.

Putting the results on the website as they were declared, though, was always a hair-raising experience; a combination of slow network (because it was being shared by a lot of people) and a slow CMS was the least of our obstacles. Dealing with results for 10 constituencies for the general election was just about doable, but for the local elections, the pace of the results of 40 wards coming in in fairly quick succession meant that on many occasions the whole count was over and the room was being packed up whilst we were still only half way through.

And then came Twitter.

As the council we had a legal restriction that we weren't allowed to publicise a result until the Returning Officer had officially declared it. But the party activists and the citizen journalists walking the floor of the count were working under no such restriction (or if they technically were supposed to be there was nobody to enforce it), and I especially remember the 2010 elections when I was putting the results on the council's Twitter feed as well as on the website, and most of those results I was actually reading them from other people on Twitter before they'd been handed to us by Election Control!

Time passes further, and now the BBC's and other news organisations' online election coverage is actually rather good, allowing users to input their locations and getting comprehensive results as they're announced.

So I do wonder, is the live results service by council online teams still actually providing a valuable service to council website users? Many council online services will have content strategies which explicitly counsel against duplicating content which is held elsewhere, suggesting signposting to it instead. We do have a responsibility, of course, of including the election results on our websites, but do we have a responsibility of providing the live service?

Any given council web manager will know from their own analytics how many live users they get during the declarations period vs afterwards, and for smaller councils with fewer wards and constituencies it may be less effort to do it live anyway than for a larger council. But how many of us have conducted proper user research to fully quantify the value of providing the live service? In short, I wonder if the effort of putting basic tables of results up live in a hurry might be better directed towards spending a bit more time over the following days doing some nice formatting and including some interesting analysis and context for the results, with graphs and comparisons over time and stuff. 

And of course, if the content management system itself has a specific elections content type module, a lot of that work, including the population of the council composition pages, can be automated with the content editor just having to do no more than enter the names, parties, and votes cast as well as turnout and spoiled figures, and the rendering will make the rest of it look great and be useful.