Bracknell Forest Digital Services


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The Look Out Discovery day

We took some time away from our desks this week to visit The Look Out Discovery Centre. The Look Out is a science centre for children, with lots of hands-on exhibits, a building zone and even a giant tower to climb in the forest.

The centre is a part of Bracknell Forest Council, and along with Coral Reef across the road, draws a lot of visitors to the area. When we got there, the woodland attraction was in full swing for the summer holidays. We wanted to find out what their visitors thought of the website, and what we should change in the redevelopment.

We went round asking visitors about their experiences of our website, their visit, and about other leisure attraction websites they have found helpful. We wrote their responses on Post-it notes (which are increasingly become the foundation of everything we do), and stuck them up onto Eric the Owl.

Eric the Owl

Eric the (Post-it noted) Owl

We had a few assumptions before we started:

  • that visitors would be largely local to the Bracknell or Berkshire area
  • that visitors would have visited the website to get information before their visit

We were wrong!

The majority of people we spoke to had travelled to The Look Out from other nearby boroughs and counties, and so hadn’t spent a great deal of time on the Bracknell Forest Council website at all. Those who did live in the borough hadn’t needed to look at the website before visiting.

At first this was a bit of a knock, as we had hoped to ask wider questions about the website as a whole. But on reflection, it was really useful to know that the redevelopment for The Look Out will need to be geared towards non-resident visitors as much as towards those who live and work here.

We also discovered more about how leisure attractions work together to promote each other within an area. Many people had found all they needed to know about The Look Out through social media, word of mouth, or printed leaflets and publications. It’s great that word travels fast like this, and the fact that some visitors didn’t feel they needed to visit the website shows that The Look Out do a great job of marketing themselves.

But the website needs to be there to answer the questions that people have, which don’t fit on a leaflet. Some questions people wished they had been able to find on the website were:

  • Are the activities age appropriate for my children?
  • Is there provision for learning disabilities?
  • Is there somewhere for me to leave my bag while we go around the exhibits?
Lizzie and Leyla in front of Eric the owl

It’s clipboard time!

The current website for The Look Out is functional, and answers most critical questions. But we want to reflect the exciting, family feel of the place in our design and content. We feel that this calls for more images, more capacity for promotion of shows and events, and a more exciting presentation of simply worded content.

We had a great time looking around the venue, talking to people, and having a quick go on the exhibits ourselves.

Up the tower

Lizzie Rich getting a little scared at the top of the tower!

Now that we know what The Look Out is like, we hope we can design better content for them and a website which advertises what they do. The next stage is to meet with the managers and key players in the council’s leisure team to discuss their needs for the new website.

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Document growth and cutting back

We use a lot of PDFs on our site (2177 at last count). This isn’t always a good thing, as PDFs can be inaccessible, require downloading, don’t look great on a mobile device, and are much harder to keep updated (ever opened a document and found it was out of date or had broken links? How annoyed were you?) Checking today, we have some 300 documents that contain broken links. The worst of these has a whopping 43 broken links and was last updated in December 2012. Not good.

We want this situation to change. Whilst looking at the current site in workshops with service teams, we’ve been taking a look at the documents they have on the site in order to sort these issues out.

Some of these we have already been told can be removed, or placed less prominently. This is interesting as in the three years since our last re-development, the number of documents crept up. We did manage to get the number back down last year, owing to the hard work of web editors questioning the necessity of documents, but there still remains a substantial number of documents on our site.

Some of the growth in documents is related to times of year, such as at election time, much of the information we were required to publish was only available in a PDF format. A big reduction in documents came about when a lot of planning documents were moved off of the site.

We still have a long way to go to get the number of PDFs on our site down to a minimum, and they won’t ever disappear completely, but there are ways to ensure that those we must provide, don’t impact on the customer journey.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the figures:

Document growth infographic

In a year, 1276 out of 2177 documents were viewed less than ten times. This suggests that a lot of these documents are unnecessary, or hard to find.

We can do something about this though, by removing those that we can, and by making sure that the relevant information in them is easily available on a page. This is also the case for those documents with large numbers of views – the information is obviously key (and the statistics show that it’s often timetables and prices with the most views) so lets take it and make it readily accessible to everyone.

Currently, before uploading a document, we ask our web editors to look at whether a document adds any value, and whether this information could be on the web page instead. We give examples of where PDFs should be used, for example for official council documents or for information that is too complicated to translate into a web page.

Providing guidelines has not proved enough in itself to limit the number of documents added online. This will change with the new website but we will need web editors and service teams to get behind the drive to add less documents, and ensure that those that are added, are up-to-scratch. Meeting with service teams, and discussing the statistics behind the documents they already have, should help with this.

How do you minimise the usage of documents on your website? Let us know in the comments!


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Running workshops

We have now held our first three workshops (council tax, births and jobs). The first two workshops were test runs. The teams knew they were having the process tested out on them, which made it a little less nerve-wracking to stand in front of them and ask them lots of questions about their service. Hopefully some of those nerves will disappear during the course of the next 70 workshops!

The test runs have already helped us tweak the workshop process, and it is quite likely to change again as we get more used to running them. At the moment though, we are starting each workshop by asking some core questions:

  • Who are your customers?
  • What tasks are they carrying out?
  • How are they accessing your service?
  • Why are they accessing you service?

These questions make sure we are being as customer focused as possible, teasing out of service teams the information they have on their customers and their tasks that perhaps we don’t see through the website.

The example below is from our jobs workshop. One of the key bits of information we got out of this was that the service needs to be truly accessible out of hours. It needs as much self-service as possible as more often than not, customers are using the jobs portal outside working hours, around their current jobs.

Core questions - jobs

We are also looking to find out what impression a service team has on their digital situation. This means that we are discussing:

  • the key statistics, such as the top page hits
  • what type of content is available
  • what they think are barriers to making the service as online as possible

These discussions have been informing us as to what tasks we need to be focusing on to meet customer needs.

We have then been using the information gathered in the first part of the workshop to start creating a user journey on the key task for the service area. We are helping the service team map out the main routes of access to a task and looking at what, in an ideal world, the customer will see and do.

Registering a birth user journey mapping

I’ve drawn this out below to make it a little more legible – my board writing ability is obviously something I’m going to have to work on!

Registering a birth user journey

In the example of registering a birth, we discovered that new mothers in Bracknell Forest may have many routes into our website, such as from forums or midwife visits, as well as search engines.

Once they reach our website, the team were surprised at how formal the language we use sounded and want to make it more simple and friendly, with clearer calls to action.

At the moment, a customer must phone to book an appointment to register a birth, but the information surrounding this is online, so the journey brings them back to the site, where they can get the relevant information for the appointment, as well as signposts to other information such as passports and benefits.

So far, we have produced several of these hand-drawn user journeys, which we will now discuss further within our team and wire-frame, before building them into a beta site for customer testing to refine them. As soon as these are up and ready, we will post links for feedback.

If you want to take a look at how we are doing things now, why not take a look at our current jobs or births sections. We welcome any feedback on the current site so that we can take it forward into our beta version!