A total of fifty five applications were received for the 2006 SANGONeT NGO website Awards. Given that this was the first such competition, the response was phenomenal and provided our panel of judges with an interesting mix of both regional and sectoral examples of local NGO websites.
There was roughly a forty/sixty split between applicants whose websites were predominantly focused on development or human rights issues and those which were more oriented toward welfare and charity-related activities.
In addition, the majority of applications were from NGOs whose primary offices are located either in the Western Cape or Gauteng provinces. By identifying these and other trends it will be possible to develop specific criteria for future awards of this nature.
Innovation vs Functionality
Whilst the panel was impressed by the efforts made by all the entrants to provide a platform by which to communicate to the broader public and their specific stakeholders, it was necessary to select those websites that were exemplary, based on various pre-defined criteria.
For example, although some of the websites demonstrated substantial innovations in design, this often presented a drawback in terms of accessibility, as it was not always possible to view these websites using open source browsers, such as Mozilla Firefox.
Furthermore, there were websites that attempted to engage their audience by using a wide range of animated objects. For return users this can be very distracting and repetitive. When using these types of attention-grabbing tools, it is often important to consider their functionality and purpose from an end-user perspective.
Writing for the web is also an important element for consideration. Tips include ensuring that the most important information is effectively conveyed to the audience on the "home" or start page. This includes, for example, a clear and succinct outline of the aims or purpose of the organisation so that visitors do not leave frustrated or confused, never to return.
Other stylistic issues include the use of informal, brief communication techniques for content that is to be read off the screen. More lengthy, academic or research papers are likely to be printed out and read offline. Online content should also be broken up into smaller paragraphs and the text should not cover the entire length of the screen but rather be limited to the width of a line of text from a standard book, for ease on the reader's eye.
Other design elements that are worth exploring further include the layout and navigation of a website. This is currently an area much explored by behavioural scientists and information architects as it reveals a number of quirky and intuitive responses that are common to most web users. Some current findings from these studies include the fact that the majority of users tend to notice the top right hand side of the screen before looking elsewhere.
Also, users dislike an excessive amount of spare "white space" on their screen as this tends to be irritating to the eye and affects readability. Other issues raised were the use of consistent text formats and a need to limit the use of coloured fonts. Hyperlinks to other content should also follow some standard protocols - for example, blue is usually the preferred colour and the one most internet users are familiar with.
Navigation was also an area of concern for the panel, who observed that the use of navigation protocols within a site should be consistent to avoid any frustration for the end-user. Too much repetition of the navigation links within a page is also confusing. Overall simplicity should be the keyword in this regard. Speaking of keywords, the panel was also eager to convey the importance of a search facility on websites that contained extensive amounts of information, as this allows users to retrieve information more readily.
Credit Where it's Due
Finally, the panel commended those sites that demonstrated extensive effort in terms of the depth and variety of content that they contained. Sadly, it was clear that some lacked the necessary resources to apply technical solutions to managing this content in a manner that made it appealing to the reader's eye. A little more funding for these sites might have made them winners. Other sites were obviously in their infancy and, whilst carefully tended to and maintained, they had yet to reach the full extent of their capabilities. We hope to see these sites make a grand debut in forthcoming years!
Here is this year's list of finalists, along with their websites:
- Children in Distress
- Economic Transformation Audit
- Endangered Wildlife Trust
- Institute for Democracy in South Africa
- Neighbourhood Old Age Homes
- South African NGO Coalition North West
- Sustainable Energy Africa
- Transkei Land Service Organisation (TRALSO)
- Ubunti Education Fund
Low Budget Options and Freebies
For NGOs who lack the necessary funds and expertise for the development of their NGOs website, SANGONeT suggests that you take a look at creating a website or blog using some of the following free (non-technical) online tools:
- Google's new Page Creator
There's Always Next Year!
For those of you wanting to prepare for next year's round of SANGONeT web awards, why not also visit the ICT section of the NGO Management Toolkit for more tips and ideas on how to design and maintain your website?
- Drafted by Diane Babak, SANGONeT Information Services Manager.