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Launched: An online presence for a new unitary authority, Buckinghamshire Council

Tom Harrison, Jan. 30, 2020

Since October, Unboxed has been working with Buckinghamshire Council, Torchbox and Scroll to create an online presence for Buckinghamshire Council — a new unitary authority, replacing five existing authorities, due to launch on 1st April 2020.

As of last week, the new authority minimum viable product (MVP) website is live and publicly available:

The new Buckinghamshire Council website homepage

The new Buckinghamshire Council site homepage.

Back in 2018, the Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government announced that the five current authorities of Buckinghamshire are to become a brand new unitary authority — Buckinghamshire Council.

The new Buckinghamshire Council unitary authority

The new Buckinghamshire Council unitary authority.

Like any public body, the new unitary authority needs a website, so in the summer of 2019, Unboxed, Torchbox and Scroll were appointed as delivery partners to create a new online presence, designed and built around user needs and be of the internet, not just on the internet.

The project kicked off in October with the Buckinghamshire Digital Service, delivery partners and digital and customer service representatives from all five existing councils, establishing the vision, aligning everyone’s hopes from the new website and setting the scope of what needs to be delivered in the MVP by mid-February 2020.

The project kick-off workshop

The project kick-off workshop.

Referencing the Government Digital Service (GDS) Design System and recently redesigned council websites, such as Essex County Council, the team was able to accelerate straight into prototyping potential solutions, testing with residents for feedback and iterating, based on insights.

Cross-authority engagement and rapid progress

Engagement is taking place with stakeholders across all five councils as we explain our content design approach in further detail to other workstreams in the unitary programme. We’re also managing expectations around what early versions of the site will look like and gathering priorities from various services to help us understand where we should focus our development once we have completed version one of the new site.

To keep all councils up-to date of our work, we’ve been taking our Show & Tells on the road to different district council offices to reach people that can’t attend our team base at the county council offices, sharing our slide decks and Show & Tell videos online.

"On the road" Show & Tells

An "on the road" Show & Tell at Aylesbury Vale District Council.

The rate of progress encouraged Buckinghamshire to commission additional work on a new ‘Find and Apply for a Job’ digital service for the new council. Using existing design patterns from ‘Find a Civil Service Job’ and ‘Find a Teaching Job’, a design sprint was facilitated with the unitary programme recruitment team to create prototypes for testing.

Challenges along the way

With rapid progress has to come a bump in the road somewhere. The delivery team were a little blindsided in December with the news that from the 22nd of January, new bin lorries emblazoned with the new councils branding and, yes, URL would be driving the length and breadth of the county.

With the new lorries arriving much earlier than originally expected and the remaining sprints cut from five to three, the delivery team had to pivot and briskly rescope the MVP to hit this new deadline.

An MVP for residents of Buckinghamshire

After this initial four-month design and development phase, Buckinghamshire Council now has a live MVP website in place for vesting day, with modern roots on which new, user-centred content can be published. This is the first iteration, with plans in place to continuously iterate and improve the website based on user needs.

Prototyping the website.

The council also has web design guidelines and the beginnings of a design library of reusable user interface (UI) components for future projects and the open source content management system (CMS), Wagtail, is enabling the use of tags to make the content more usable by search engines and voice assistants.

There’s still a lot to do before vesting day on 1st April, as most content is at the end of links back to the five legacy council sites, but we’ve come a long way towards fixing the plumbing of the website and making technology an enabler of a first-class user experience, rather than a limiting factor.

Stay up-to-date with project progress via our team weeknotes, published on the Buckinghamshire Digital Service blog, along with Show & Tell videos.

Buckinghamshire Council - Unitary Authority Website - Show & Tell 1 from Unboxed on Vimeo.