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.

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