Building a better council website for Croydon

A look behind the scenes at how the council's digital team is overhauling to better meet residents' needs.

Regular readers of these pages will know that we’re rebuilding the website. In July I posted about a new approach we decided to take. Rather than reinventing the wheel, we decided to pick up Brighton & Hove City Council’s Drupal 8 code. It’s enabled us to go much further, faster and we’re already well into development of an ‘alpha’ website.

“What’s an alpha?” I hear you ask. Well, there’s a good definition here. In a nutshell, it’s us experimenting with different ideas to find the ones that work best. For the new site, we initially wanted to find out how to:

  • deliver a high quality publishing platform quickly
  • transition large amounts of content from the existing site to the new one
  • put the needs of our users (the residents and businesses of Croydon) front and centre

Questions, questions…

As we started working on the questions above, more questions presented themselves. We roadtested Brighton & Hove City Council’s code, and agreed it was the best way to get up and running quickly. So far so good. But what’s the best way to “Croydon-ise” the design and code base? How should Brighton & Hove share updates with us, and us with them? How do we make sure our arrangement is fair to both sides? And so on…

Around this time we applied to the Local Digital Fund for support to help us find the answers, particularly to explore code sharing in more detail. We’ll work through some of this anyway, but MHCLG backing would help us learn wider lessons that could be used by other councils in their code sharing projects. Fingers crossed for a win!

Where to start on content?

The existing has around 2500 pages of information. It’s not the largest content project most of us have worked on, but it’s still hefty. Plus a lot of the pages haven’t been reviewed in a while.

For the alpha we needed to pick a place to start trying out ideas. Our content designers looked at analytics from the existing website, and calls and emails from residents. We agreed that Adult Social Care would be a good place to start, as it could make a big impact for the most vulnerable residents in Croydon.

There’s a lot to say about our approach to content design during the alpha. One of our content designers, Chris, is writing about this and will post shortly.

Building for ourselves

The alpha was also a good time to prove that we could build new site features for ourselves from scratch. An opportunity presented itself with GOV.UK’s Step by Step content format.

Step by Step has made a huge difference to GOV.UK, showing its users that content has context. For example, many users Google “driving lessons” and arrive at GOV.UK. Thanks to Step by Step, they can see there are steps before and after. The format makes it easier for a user to complete their task.

For our alpha we decided to try building a basic version of Step by Step and filling it with content. As part of the Adult Social Care work, we picked “apply for social care for an adult”. It has quite a few steps, and the council needs a lot of detail to make an assessment. It was an ideal candidate.

Screenshot of the step by step design, showing the third step to apply for social care is "Check if you need to pay", with other steps listed to the right side

We’re about to put our first Step by Step in front of real users to see what they make of it, and then we’ll act on their feedback. When this goes live, we’ll have learned a lot of lessons that will help with further development. How to build from scratch. What Croydon pages should look like. Language that works best for users. And plenty more besides.

That’s the point of an alpha: learning about what works and doesn’t. Not being afraid to try things out. We’re almost at the end of the alpha stage now, and about to go for an assessment. Will we pass or fail?

With that cliffhanger I will leave you dangling. (P.S. stay off Twitter, it’s notorious for spoilers!)

1 thought on “Building a better council website for Croydon”

Richard Thomas 9th October 2019 at 5:30 pm

Ah! Just found the ‘Light Theme’ button on your blogs. Thank goodness for that as I’m not a fan of the dark side… 😅

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