Digital Communication: Asking users was the key to a great website

Phil Pyatt of Crimestoppers tells Andy Ricketts how young people helped create the Shadow CS website.

When Crimestoppers decided to launch a website to tackle crime among young people, the charity didn't simply rely on its own instincts. Instead, it undertook an extensive face-to-face consultation with young people across the UK, visiting major cities including Cardiff, Newcastle, Glasgow and Birmingham.

The charity had already tested the waters with a couple of small sites themed on knives and criminal damage. "We wanted to do a much bigger website to target young people and people who would not usually hear about Crimestoppers," says Phil Pyatt, head of youth at Crimestoppers.

The organisation even put young people in charge of the major decisions about the website. It embarked on a tour of selected UK youth groups and carried out a written consultation exercise.

It was only in Liverpool that the charity encountered any difficulties getting young people to talk about what they wanted to see on the website. "They thought we were the police, so they did not want to talk to us," says Pyatt.

He admits that this was not entirely surprising. "When you talk to young people, you usually need to talk to them over a long period of time to build up their trust. The ones in Liverpool were probably just being smart."

Gathering young people's views was a valuable exercise, he says: "We learned from the consultation that young people wanted a website that was fun, and one that they could customise." Even the idea of incorporating 'shadow' into the name of the site came from one of the youth groups.

One of the biggest challenges was coming up with the whopping £75,000 Crimestoppers needed to build Shadow CS.

Pyatt says it managed to raise the cash through grants and fundraising. One individual at a New Scotland Yard fundraising event donated £35,000.

The bumper budget meant the charity could be fussy about getting what it wanted. "We did go through a few designers to get the right look," says Pyatt.

The work seems to have paid off: Shadow CS has had more than 420,000 hits since its launch in September 2007 and scored 17/20 when reviewed by Third Sector on 24 October 2007.

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