The points about comments and relevance is fair but a simple 24 hour delay before publishing would ensure that people stay 'on topic'. The links should not imply that comments are visible or that your comments will be visible if that is not the case. If you click, 'Who said what?', you are told there are no comments on the document , this could easily simply tell you the number of comments received at that point. I agree with Hugh also that a welcome page that explained the process, the reasons for having to register etc would take no time to set up.
Discussion forums could be set to accompany the document as you find on government websites, http://haveyoursay.communities.gov.uk/forums/
Finally , I would imagine that it cost a lot of money to set this up and buy the software. I would like to know how much. If few people are using the service, it does not represent a good use of public money.
Following the discussion on here, I have written to Lorna Reith, the Cabinet Member for Community Cohesion and Involvement about the Limehouse Portal,
"Dear Ms Reith,
I am writing to you to express my concern about the effectiveness of the the
online consultation portal that the Council have set up. I have tried to use it
on two occasions and have found the site very difficult to negotiate.
I have registered to use it now and have left a comment on the Wood Green SPD
but am surprised to discover, through correspondence with the department
responsible for this consultation, that comments made are not published until
one month after the consultation closes even though the document implies by the
way it is set up that you will be able to see what people have written.
I fully understand the reasoning that the council came to the decision not to
have comments visible before the end of the consultation, as they want comments
on the document not discussion, but I would suggest that it is counterproductive
that when you click on the "Who said what?" button that you are told there are
no comments on the document. This implies that nobody is bothering to comment
and psycologically, I feel that people will not attempt to add comments on a
website that appears to have no traffic. A simple remedy for this would be for
the welcome page to register the number of comments, if not the actual content,
although a simple process of delaying publication of responses for 24 hours
would enable officials to weed out the irrelevant and still allow informed
comment to be read by interested parties. A comment counter would make people
feel like the document was part of an active consultation process.
I am therefore requesting a number of things:
1. Please could you review the current layout of the website and introduce a
user friendly welcome page that would explain about how commenting works, why
people need to register quite so many of their personal details (another thing
which may put people off) and what to expect once their comment has been
2. To do away with comment buttons and "Who said what" links and introduce a
simple counter system which tells people how many comments have been left.The
interface is unnecessarily busy and over complex as it stands.
3. Many national government pages have discussion forums on their documents for
consultation. It would be useful for Haringey to introduce something like this
to allow for general comments. This of course could be moderated to safeguard
4. In the correspondence, I learned that NO comments on the Housing SPD were
made online which surprises me given the strength of feeling on the housing
issue in the borough. Therefore, I would like to know how much the Limehouse
portal cost to set up and maintain. Given that there has been apparently little
traffic on it so far I am wondering whether it represents either effective
community consultation or value for money."
Just checked the on-line consultation portal - just about two months down the line and none of our comments have appeared yet. I'm sure they led me to expect to see them put up within a month - and I thoght that seemed a hell of a log time.