Creating a new online presence for a new unitary local authority with Buckinghamshire Council

bucks-website

A new online presence for 545,000+ residents

  • Five local authorities merged into a single unitary in April 2020
  • Worked with delivery partners to successfully launch a minimum viable product (MVP)
  • New website launched in time for vesting day
  • Ongoing relationship with Buckinghamshire Council to further transition legacy websites

12

Weeks from discovery to live MVP website

5

Local authorities becoming one single authority

Background

In 2018, the Communities Secretary announced that the five authorities of Buckinghamshire (Buckinghamshire County Council and Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern, South Buckinghamshire and Wycombe District Councils) would become a new single unitary authority, Buckinghamshire Council.

As well as working with the council’s digital team, we also collaborated with our partner agencies Torchbox and Scroll to deliver an MVP for the website. Together we provided service design, user research, development of a Wagtail content management system (CMS) and content design.


Understanding user needs across five authorities

As a newly formed unitary authority, we worked to recruit and carry out user research with a wide range of residents. Activities included one-to-one user interviews and user journey mapping to identify and validate user needs for the new website. User needs were then applied to early clickable prototypes to inform how we would iterate the designs to be built.

careers-website-sketching


Accelerating progress through a design system

With the new council branding launched, we created a design system of reusable styles, components and patterns to be used on the website which was inspired by the GOV.UK Design System. This enabled us to accelerate delivery as the components for the website were available to work with straight away. These guidelines are used council-wide for websites that were also managed by third parties to ensure a consistent user experience across services.


bucks-design-system

An example of this is the how design system was used in the delivery of the Jobs and Careers website.


Responding quickly to change

In the lead up to vesting day, there was unexpected news that bin lorries using the new council branding and URL had to be launched before the original go live date for the new website. We therefore had to pivot and re-scope the MVP by reducing our number of sprints to meet this earlier deadline.

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“The bin lorries livery changing is one of the more bizarre curve balls I’ve dealt with as a Delivery Manager, but it really proves the value of an MVP approach. We were able to descope a few things and still have a functional website available for vesting day, without impacting overall delivery of the site.”

— Tom Harrison, Senior Delivery Manager, Unboxed

The worldwide Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 also meant the focus had to shift from the roadmap and move towards helping residents during lockdown by providing information and advice for local services. We were able to quickly respond to change by designing and developing a coronavirus support and information hub to help residents and businesses.

“Unboxed’s ability to deliver at pace, and to pivot from one set of deliverables to another, evidenced by their work around the Covid-19 pandemic, proved to us how right we’d been when we selected them as our delivery partner of choice. Time and time again they showed flexibility, pragmatism and an understanding of how a local authority worked that meant we were able to deliver on time and still adhere to the principles of UCD that we came to know and love.”

— Pete Parfitt, Head of Digital, Buckinghamshire Council

Working openly by default

We worked in the open from day one by embedding teams onsite (pre-Covid) in Aylesbury with the Buckinghamshire digital team ensuring close collaborative working. Sprint show and tells were recorded in the project team’s working space, with an open invite for colleagues to attend. We then moved to live streaming during Covid-19, enabling further audiences to join. We also shared sprint notes and blog posts regularly as well as running collaborative online workshops.


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545,000+

Residents of Buckinghamshire

99.1%

Website scoring against Level AA WCAG 2.1 standard

A website ready in time for vesting day

The unitary website was successfully launched in time for the 1st April 2020 vesting day deadline. This included a rapid discovery through to a MVP launch within a 12 week timeline. The new website is now being used by residents, businesses and council staff and meets accessibility standards. When launched, it peaked as the fourth most-accessible UK council website scoring 99.1% for Level AA against the WCAG 2.1 standard.



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Post-MVP launch

Following the launch of our MVP, we were able to review and repurpose content for main services and publish it on the new website. Below are some examples of areas we worked on:

  • school transport and admissions
  • waste and recycling services
  • planning and building
  • parking
  • revenue and benefits
  • highways and transport
  • road safety, cycling and walking

We carried out an audit of what was on the legacy websites to see what should be moved across or archived. Once audited we then produced content plans that included user needs identified through user research, call logs and website metrics. We worked collaboratively with subject matter experts (SMEs) in each area to draft and fact check content before it was published live. This informed how we would structure the navigation and information architecture (IA) on the new website and which was tested with users throughout using various methods such as tree testing.

In addition, we also designed and developed new templates in the CMS for different content types. These we incorporated into the design resources section that was published on the website.


The adoption of new ways of working

The Buckinghamshire Council digital team were originally responsible for publishing content and there was much to learn for a project of this size and scale. To support this, we embedded ourselves with our agency partners to work as one team and bring design and development expertise together through design crits as well as help establish an agile mindset.

While we were able to support the digital team with developing and designing the initial phases of this digital transformation project, there is still more to do to transition content for other council services to the new website. By bringing new working practices into the team we’ve enabled them to feel more empowered by setting them up for success to continue to deliver this product.

“The tools, templates and practices that Unboxed built for us along with the confidence that they engendered within the team have meant that after they finished their engagement the team were able to continue their great work. Whilst we miss their support, as any true partner does they were able to make the team believe in themselves, carrying on the User Centred Design principles they started.”

— Pete Parfitt, Head of Digital, Buckinghamshire Council