Multi-council Drupal code sharing: the LocalGov Drupal Alpha is almost done
The LocalGov Drupal Alpha is approaching its last sprint. Here's an overview of the leaps and bounds the project has made since the previous update.
Croydon Council and partners have been busy sharing code over the summer. As you’ll remember from previous blog posts, we teamed up with Brighton & Hove City Council and plenty of other councils to create LocalGov Drupal, a web publishing platform that anyone can use.
The Alpha phase of our project has just over a sprint left to run, and it’s high time we updated on its progress.
What we’ve been doing
We’re particularly proud of Campaigns and Directories. It was a sterling effort by Ekes, Stephen and Finn from our main supplier, Agile Collective, working with devs from the councils. The original budget back in the Brighton days was small, and we didn’t have very long to complete these features. Thanks to Alpha funding from MHCLG, we’ve been able to rethink how they work.
The Campaigns format now uses a Drupal contrib module called Layout Paragraphs. It provides a simple to use page builder, allowing columns to be set up and filled with paragraphs. Our paragraph library is growing thanks to contributions from Bracknell Forest and its agency Microserve.
The team also considered and rejected Drupal’s built-in layout functionality. We spoke to all the councils in the project about this – they liked it, but felt it was too complex for some users. Layout Paragraphs offered a good balance of functionality and ease of use.
Directories are a complete rethink and rebuild from the version we had before. The biggest change is it’s now possible to surface a directory entry in many channels. A primary school could live in schools, SEND provision and community venue directories, for example.
The maps functionality is much improved too. It’s now easy to plug in the maps provider you’re using. Plus, content designers can start typing a venue address to place a pin on a map, rather than having to search for latitude and longitude values elsewhere. That’s a huge time saver.
It’s also easy to create custom directory entry templates, and grant separate editing permissions for each. We’re looking forward to conversations with our partner councils about what these templates should be.
Adnan has migrated the existing Croydon homepage, and it now uses the page builder in Campaigns (mentioned above). Content designers will be able to easily add and remove homepage features as they wish. Chris is styling it next sprint.
To wrap things up, Chris and Design Dave are reworking the Croydon theme to become the LocalGov Drupal default theme. There’s a couple of days of polishing left, and we’ll share links to the work when we’re done.
There’s no obligation to use the default theme, but it’s there if needed. Bracknell Forest is building its own, and the distribution makes it easy to install.
Earlier on in the Alpha, we were able to test content formats with new councils joining the project. Mira and I sat with Oliver and Courtney from London Councils as they created content using Service landing pages, Guides, Step by Step and Service Status. The formats performed pretty well, but we made a few tweaks based on feedback. Now that Campaigns and Directories are ready, we’ll be doing the same again.
Separately John from DXW has been speaking to councils up and down the country about their publishing platforms. How do they choose which one to use? What skills do they have in house, and what do they buy in? What’s their attitude to sharing? And so on. His findings are a blog post by themselves, and we’ll share soon.
Councils working without help
The lockdown has meant that some of our councils needed extra time to join the project. We decided to stretch the budget by a month and gave Agile Collective August off. This meant Croydon, Brighton & Hove and London Councils collaborated without any help for 4 whole weeks!
The good news is we got a lot of useful work done, and delivered features we all need. As an early test of council collaboration, we’re delighted with the result.
Say hello to a new council!
During August we were approached by our neighbour, Lambeth, about joining the project. We had a flurry of conversations and gave them access to the testing site (if you’d like access, please let us know).
The great news is that Lambeth has joined us, and will be sprinting from next week. Our existing partners, Westminster City Council and the Royal Borough of Kensington Chelsea, are about to start work too.
What we’re doing next
The distribution is almost ready for use, so we’re planning how to migrate content from our existing websites to it. We in Croydon are planning to move in the first week in October. It’s giving Tom and I headaches transitioning from a site that was already in transition, but we knew this was coming and it’ll be worth the effort. Brighton & Hove is reviewing options, including a full migration and integrating modules in its existing setup.
London Councils has built a test site based on LocalGov Drupal, and is planning its wider project.
As councils get on board, we’ll have far more time for LocalGov Drupal. We’ve started fortnightly Product Group sessions to share our roadmaps and spot opportunities where we can work on features together. There’s a surprising amount of consensus, and everyone has been willing to roll their sleeves up for the greater good. It’s really heartening to see. For me, understanding where we align so we can max out the benefits has always been the most important part of the project.
We’ve come a long way. It was perfect timing to read this week’s post by Alick about the origins of the project. It’s helped us reflect on what it takes to make a successful collaboration – a genuine need, a good idea, shared values, trust, perseverance, managers saying “yes”. We’re definitely getting there.
As our Alpha draws to a close, we’re starting to think about the final report, and what’s ahead. There’s definitely a Beta project here, and we’ve started talking about what it might include. We’ve seen from councils joining the Alpha they welcome some product and technical help to get started. Our teams need coordination so we get the most value from working together. A Beta should provide for both.
I’m also reminded of my post from February 2019. Scroll down and you’ll see an idea for a not-for-profit taking the work forward. In our Discovery project we talked about governance models, including creating a Foundation. That’s something we’d like to explore in more detail.
There’s so much to talk about, and this blog post is already long enough! Thanks for reading. If you have any questions, please post below or look us up on Twitter.