Bracknell Forest Digital Services


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New website launch

Our new website is now live!

It’s been a journey of almost two years from initial workshops and planning, to finally building the site over the last few months. The past six months have borne the brunt of the work, hence the radio silence on the blog!

We’ve put a lot of focus on redesigning the site to make our online services easier and faster to use.

We have also simplified it so that our customers can find the information they want without having to wade through large amounts of unnecessary information. We’ve removed documents where possible, taking off over 1000 of them in the process.

This is not to say the site is perfect. It’s not. It’s a work in progress.

We still have a long way to go to get the content perfected, to get the number of documents down further and to work out some of the issues with navigation and search. But in making the site live now, we will better be able to capture feedback and solve the problems that affect customers.

Thank you to everyone who has helped us with feedback and testing over the course of the project.


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Wireframe User testing

Last week we held a user testing session on our initial website wireframes. With 10 participants at the session, we were able to test the wireframes across desktops, tablets and mobiles, giving us an insight into how the website would perform across all devices.

The participants were recruited through our Open Learning Centre, and as such they had a range of technical ability. Some had come from a course about learning to use an iPad, whilst others were recruited from our ‘English language café’ where they attend to improve their English. Others were from an IT open session, and had more of an understanding about how to use a computer. This gave us a wide range of participant skill level which helped us check whether the site would be usable for a variety of customers.

BFC-User-Testing-Round-one.png

As this was our first in-person user testing for the re-development, we were all pretty nervous about how it would be received. Thankfully, it all went off fairly well and we got some great positive feedback that proves that the path we are on is the right one.

Examples of feedback include:

“Very clear website”

“Straight to topic”

“Very straightforward”

“Good to have all the key information near the top of the homepage”

However, the testing wasn’t all positive and it did highlight several issues with the website that we will need to consider how to resolve.

The 3 main usability problems which everyone had were:

  • The “More Services” button is not visible enough. Most of our participants couldn’t find it without prompting.
  • Most participants expected to find “register a birth” under “family information”.
  • Most participants struggled to find local news.

It was also really interesting to see that no one used the main drop down menu. As such, the users testing the mobile version could not find “My account” button because it was hidden in the drop down.

Having carried out this initial wireframe testing, we will now hold some internal testing with some of our councillors and staff. This should help us double check the issues raised through the customer testing.


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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.

Content

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

Design

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

Technical

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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Talking Local Gov websites

Leeds

Leeds canal – more picturesque than expected!

I recently had the chance to go to Local Gov Camp in Leeds. Local Gov Camp is an unconference hosted by Local Gov Digital where lots of local government (and otherwise engaged) folks turned up to run sessions on whatever they felt the need to discuss. Sessions ranged from service design, to open source LEGO and much more besides. (Check out the Local Gov Digital site for some great information on the camp as a whole!)

I pitched a session to look at website navigation. As we are about to start trying to pull our new site navigation together, I wanted to hear what other councils are doing.

The session itself ended up looking at a lot of different ideas around council websites, with some great contributions from Sarah Lay over at Nottinghamshire Council, where they just went live with a new site.

Whilst there was no one output from this session, a lot of what we discussed needs to be considered during our redevelopment project. Some of the key points follow:

  • If we ensure that our content works in search, we can reduce down landing pages and hierarchical structures.
  • We are making assumptions all the time as what people want to do. In doing this, we need to make sure we are clear about what they actually need to do. This then must be clearly reflected in our user journeys, so customers can understand and complete their task.
  • Language is fundamental. The site needs to reflect the natural language of the customer and not ‘council-speak’.
  • The website is a digital interface into the whole council and has to work for the customer first, not the service team.
  • Don’t force everything online. The soft approach with some services works better. Some people need to see people.

These ideas now need to inform the workshops we run with service teams, the content we present and the approach we take to the site as a whole. I know I will certainly be thinking about these ideas as we move through the project and will encourage our whole team to do the same.


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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!


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3 years and counting

Over the past few months we have done a lot of stock taking on our existing website. This has helped us inform the way we want to move forward with the re-development.

It’s also a good way of benchmarking for the future. Our current site is over three years old. In this time, we have gathered a large quantity of statistics about usage of the site. We can see what people come to our site for, as well as what type of information we present to them when they do – from content pages to PDF documents.

By looking at where we are now, we hope to get a good idea of how our re-developed site has improved the customer experience.

We’ve put together an infographic to highlight the most interesting (to us, at least) key statistics from the last three years. If infographs are not your thing, the statistics are also available below with a little explanation of the figures.

Key statistics from the public website since April 2012

Content growth

The figures around content show that the site has grown, despite attempts to keep page numbers down. This has sometimes led to unnecessarily long pages, something we are going to be looking at during the re-development.

Year Number of pages
2012 996
2013 1208
2014 1191
2015 1244

Likewise, the number of PDF documents on our site has also grown, getting up to nearly 3000 at some points. We have managed to bring this back down through careful assessment of the need for a document, but we still have a long way to go.

Year Number of documents
2012 1874
2013 2840
2014 1197
2015 2170

Overall key figures

Page views 17,752,383
Visitors 2,841,258
Visits 5,898,175

Yearly key figures

These figures show us that in terms of visits and visitors, we have had a steady increase in both, reflecting the general trend towards online services. Similarly, the number of page views has also grown over the years.

2012-13  2013-14  2014-15
Visits  1,581,131  2,172,729  2,354,903
Visitors 793,654  1,097,603  1,227,738
Page views  5,097,905  6,144,779  7,028,221

For a more detailed breakdown of our statistics, we update our website statistics page monthly.

We’ll also be back over the coming weeks to take a closer look at what these figures have shown us.