Bracknell Forest Digital Services

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My way or the highway; creating new content for roads

Roads icon

My first experience of creating structure and content for the new website was for the roads section.

We had two workshops about this section. One was with Highway Network Management (which has several teams within it) and the other was with Highway Asset Management.

For customers, these teams do one overall thing: look after roads. So it’s not relevant to them that there are different teams, and teams within teams, some of which deal with traffic flow, others which deal with potholes. Instead, the customer journey needs to include the services offered by both these teams without breaking that journey into two parts.

Secondly, both these service areas are pretty keen on the word highway. It’s important to them – and it’s what they are all about. But, from a user perspective, we’re really talking about roads. Okay, so it’s actually roads, pavements and even some verges, but that’s getting complicated which is the opposite of where we want to be.

Keeping our content crystal clear is a priority – our current website was highly rated by the Plain English Campaign just this week. What I’ve noticed, is that you can always review content for the better. So let’s use the word roads, where roads makes more sense in the context.


Guide pages

We sourced the idea of guide pages from GOV.UK; the format is an overview or introduction page with related (numbered) pages that you can clearly see at the top. If it’s a process, you can go through them in numerical order, or you can click straight to the content that’s relevant to you. Here’s a snippet taken from GOV.UK:

Snippet taken from GOV.UK of an example guide page

There were two instances where I re-structured content into a guide page. One was a PDF about gritting and one was a page about abandoned vehicles that was so long I’m not sure anyone but me has reached the end of it. For both of these, I changed the content into the new guide page structure so they had a short intro and simple, associated pages.

In terms of making sure the content was in Plain English, turning the bottomless page into more manageable pieces of information was pretty straightforward as it was already written for a web audience.

Much more editing was required with the PDF, which raises yet another problem with PDFs – not only are they generally not very accessible – they tend to be created without that keen focus on a web audience. If they are serving no purpose and no-one is looking at them (over half of our PDFs currently get no views at all) – get rid of them. If they are important – consider changing them into web pages instead.


Make things better

If our content team had a tag-line, this could be it. T-shirts anyone?

Image of a tee shirt with the words: Make things better


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Global Accessibility Awareness Day

Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day!

The purpose of this day is to get people all around the world talking, thinking and learning about digital accessibility and users with different disabilities.

Digital accessibility involves ensuring that people are not excluded from using and interacting with the web, regardless of ability and technology.

We have worked with an organisation called the Shaw Trust to ensure that the council’s public website can be used by people with a range of disabilities.

Some examples of the testing carried out include:

  • blind and partially sighted users who have web pages read aloud using a screen reader
  • users with cognitive or motor impairments who rely on a keyboard or joystick instead of a mouse
  • users with Dyslexia or difficulties with colour contrasts

Digital accessibility is very important to us and this will be a priority as we build the new website. The new website will also be responsive to assist users visiting on a mobile device and we are looking to reduce PDF documents as these are generally not very accessible.

The GAAD website has some great ideas on how to participate in Global Accessibility Awareness Day – such as going mouseless, or using a screen reader for an hour. Why not give it a go?

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How to make an enormous website seem simple

Coming from a private sector marketing background, I’ve been involved in the launch of two new websites, one for a shopping centre and one for a niche B2B company in the airline industry. I thought these were decent sized projects, until recently…

Redeveloping the council website is a bit like having to do 10 shopping centre websites all at once, because the breadth of services that we offer is so huge. The challenge is to make your journey through our site, as clear and simple as possible, so that you won’t even notice how large the rest of the site is.

On 16 Feb, we spent a day focusing on the Information Architecture of the new website, and a simple user journey was our top priority. This part of the process is not linked to the design of the site (which will equally need to pay good attention to the user journey), so the picture below is not design – rather it’s a way of capturing steps in the user journey.

Homepage IA

Once these wireframes are refined, we can then test them and improve them. One of our goals with the new website is to strip everything down to be as simple as possible, whilst continuing to follow the approach that the GDS (Government Digital Service) have developed for GOV.UK.

We also want to extend the range of accessibility options and discussed ideas around creating an easy read landing page which is easier to read (as well as creating more of this content in the first place). We challenged our current approach to accessibility – and agreed that if something isn’t helping we will remove it and use something that is.

Flexibility is key in other areas as well, which is why using new open source software is such a big advantage for us. How can we promote important things at certain times of the year – such as school admissions or elections – whilst retaining the bread and butter parts of our site?

Although the day opened up new questions for us to investigate, we now have a very clear direction for the back-end build of the website, which has been informed by the service area workshops (read about a particularly fun one at The Look Out). The new site will be responsive so it doesn’t matter how you access it (over 50% of our website visitors aren’t using a PC), and I am certain it will be really quick and easy to use. Next stop, design workshop!

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An end of year round up

With Christmas and 2016 just around the corner (it is Christmas Eve Eve, after all) we thought it would be a good time to take a look over some of the work we have done over the past year, as well as look ahead to some of the work we will do in the first part of 2016.

A look back at 2015

2015 has seen us carry out a lot of preparation for our new website across the content, design and technical work streams. All of this work should put us in a good place to really get going with the re-development in the new year.


In 2015 we did the following content work for the re-development:

  • held 30 workshops, across the five directorates, each one producing a discovery report and key user journey
  • re-wrote 11 sections of content, including bins and recycling, school admissions, and elections
  • launched 10 Treejack surveys
  • drafted our updated content standards


In 2015 we did the following design work for the re-development:

  • drafted 8 sections worth of wireframes
  • completed the procurement of web design services


In 2015 we did the following technical work for the re-development:

  • set up the Drupal hosting infrastructure
  • migrated 9 of 11 microsites across to new web hosting

Looking forward to 2016

2016 is shaping up to be another busy year for us. We will be continuing the workshops, and have about another 30 to run. We will also continue to re-draft content, working to make it as clear to the customer as possible with guided user journeys.

Excitingly, we will also be commencing work on the design, as well as launching our newsroom site in beta.

In terms of the main public website, we hope to launch our council tax beta early in February, when we will also commence user testing of this section to get feedback as to how it is working for our customers.

Finally, we would like to thank everyone who has helped us with user testing so far through our navigation surveys. If you’d like to be informed when we start user testing for our beta site, sign up now!

The last workshop of the year was supported by Darth Santa himself!

The last workshop of the year was supported by Darth Santa himself!

Have a very happy Christmas  from all the team and we’ll be back next year!

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Moving on

 My year as a Digital Content Officer has come to an end!

I applied for this job as an English Literature graduate straight out of university. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to start my career, aside from knowing that I wanted to write, and I wanted to help people. I saw the advert for Digital Content Officer, quickly Googled what Drupal was, and applied.

Since I got the job, I have learnt a huge amount about how people think, how people use digital technology, and what we can do to make compulsory government processes easier for people to complete. I have spent a lot of time reading about and considering usability and accessibility, and reworking my writing to make it as useful as possible. This has meant getting rid of academic writing or anything remotely poetic, and sticking to words and phrases which everyone can understand. A key element of usability is that no one should be excluded from what you build or write, and this is something I will remember for the rest of my career.


Drafting a user journey

There have been many times during the year when I have found this job really fulfilling. We took a team to meet and work with the Nepalese community from Sandhurst for some user testing, and I saw how difficult it can be for some people to use the websites I take for granted. Being able to offer help and solutions to some of the digital issues they faced was great.


User testing with Nepalese community

As expected, the part of this job I have enjoyed the most is putting together the content for the new website. I have been working on the new content for areas including Schools Admissions, Business Rates and The Look Out Discovery Centre. In the content workflow, I have learnt to take constructive criticism. The first time someone changes what you’ve written, it feels like a bit of a blow. But I’ve taken to reminding myself that we’re all working toward the same goal, and in correcting each other, the content will only get better.

I’ve got to know a great team while I’ve been here – they’ve set the bar high as the first proper colleagues I’ve had! I will be sad to leave, but hope that my new team in Bracknell Forest’s Democratic Services will offer similar challenges, fun and encouragement. I hope to bring my new-found awareness of accessibility and openness to the democratic process. Many thanks, Colin and the Digital Services team, for taking a chance on an inexperienced but enthusiastic graduate!


Leaving lunch


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.