Bracknell Forest Digital Services

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Re-developing council tax

It’s been about 6 weeks since our first workshop. We’ve been running a whole bunch of other workshops in that time, and there is a lot of work coming out of each one but we are now getting things together to hand over to our designer to start some basic wireframes. With this progress in mind, I thought it would be interesting to talk through what is happening after a workshop from a content perspective, by looking at the progress with the council tax section.

With service teams we are talking through where customers might have come from, what kind of content they would expect to see and how they would work through the task. In this, we are mapping out one of the main user journeys. For council tax this was ‘set up a direct debit for council tax’.

Direct debit user journey

After mapping out this journey in the workshop, we are then looking at what else the team have said, as well as at usage statistics and all the other information we have gathered, to work out what pages we are going to need for the section. For each section we are producing a discovery report to scope out what we will or won’t do, and what needs there are to meet.

After pulling all this together, I have been scribbling down what kind of pages I think we will need in the section, and how they might link together. Excuse the badly drawn boxes! This was an exercise in thinking about the content as a whole, rather than a drawing challenge!

Draft of council tax pages

This is helpful because it gives us a better view of the content we are going to need and the format it might take. This is then being put into an online program called ‘Gather Content‘ which is used to write and review content. I took the above structure and added each page to our gather content site, along with the first draft of the re-written content.


All of this content will now be reviewed by several members of the team to check that it meets our standards, as well as to help us develop our new content standards for the new site.

With content well underway for this section, I’ve handed all of this off to our designer Leyla, who is working hard to put together the wireframes (she’ll be blogging soon to explain that process!). Once we have our wireframes, we will give them to our technical guys to make an alpha in Drupal.

Our second Treejack survey for the council tax section is now live. Thanks to everyone who left their feedback on the first one! It was really helpful! You will find this second survey very similar to the first, but the tree structure has been tweaked a little bit to improve (hopefully) the section’s overall structure.

Don’t forget that you can also sign up to be notified for any future user testing.


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Our Drupal journey

Five years ago open source software was not on our radar at Bracknell Forest. About eighteen months ago that all changed as we looked for a replacement for our web content management system. We wanted a system that would give us the flexibility to develop and design websites ourselves, whenever we wanted to. We chose to trial the use of Drupal, an open source platform built, used and supported by an active and diverse community of developers from around the world.

When we started our journey with Drupal we had just achieved four stars in the SOCITM Better Connected Review. So why did we consider such a fundamental change at this time? Well, we wanted the freedom to develop and change our website to meet ever changing requirements and public expectations.

We had found ourselves constrained by content management systems over the last ten years. They generally proved effective at managing content but offered little scope in terms of ongoing development. As a result we got locked into a regular cycle of website redevelopments. Every three to five years we had to start afresh, commission a new design and go through a long and often tortuous process of building a new site. We decided that it was time to move on and break this cycle of major website redevelopments. Our vision moving forward is to build a new web infrastructure which will allow us to incrementally improve our website as and when it is needed.

We have chosen Drupal to help us to achieve this. We have spent the last year or so assessing Drupal in a very practical way by building and commissioning a range of microsites. This has helped us to confirm that Drupal can work for us, before moving ahead and using it to redevelop our public website.

It is well known that there is a sharp learning curve to get to grips with Drupal. The team have immersed themselves fully in this challenge, rolled up their sleeves and got on with it. But it would be naive to think that we could have done this alone and unaided. So we have had some help along the way from external organisations in terms of Drupal design, development, hosting and support. This managed approach has helped us to set up a flexible hosting environment for us to develop and commission microsites built in Drupal. We couldn’t have achieved what we did in terms of rapidly developing and deploying a range of microsites without some outside help. The Bracknell Forest JSNA and Xpresionz (a website for young people in Bracknell Forest) are two examples of microsites developed with external support.

From our initial experience of Drupal it became clear that we needed expert help to allow us to exploit the potential of this powerful open source software. Using external support over time could have proved costly and would not have given us the flexibility that we required to build our new public website. So we decided to recruit a Drupal developer and look to this individual to help to drive our ambitions forward. This did not prove an easy task as the general supply of Drupal developers is very limited and developers are highly sought after. However after several rounds of recruitment we managed to find a talented Drupal developer who wanted to work with us.

Our aspirations for using Drupal extend beyond helping us to redevelop our own public website. We want to actively share what we create with other local authorities and encourage others to share what they have created. The number of local authorities using Drupal is slowly growing, but there is currently no active local government Drupal community that we are aware of. We hope that our work will in some way help to inspire and encourage others to consider Drupal and the potential benefits of working together to share and develop website functionality. We are keen to share knowledge with other local authorities and learn from other web and digital services teams who have already been using it for a number of years.