• led by the Digital Experience Team at Renfrewshire Council

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We’re one Council, we’re building one website

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Does Renfrewshire Council need more than 25 websites to meet the needs of its internal and external users? This is the question we asked ourselves when developing our Digital Experience Strategy.

A complex local organisation needs a flexible digital landscape

A council is made of up several diverse service areas. It goes from the most common services with bins, schools and birth registration, to the more specific ones with consumer advice, licensing and business support. Add the external partners and bodies we’re working closely with to support our communities and you’ve got a complex local organisation that needs a flexible digital landscape.

Over the years, new websites have popped up into the Council’s digital landscape and sit separately to our main digital home, Renfrewshire.gov.uk. Today, the Council has over 25 internal and external websites to manage.

This approach has worked because each website serves a very different purpose, but things are changing. As technology evolve and synergy between teams and services is more and more important, we’re finding the division of websites inefficient and expensive.

Also, let’s put ourselves in our user’s shoes. It’s very easy to get lost in a maze of websites. We can’t always expect them to know where to go online to find the information they’re looking for.

The challenges with too many websites

Trying to maintain content quality and accuracy with a divided digital landscape is difficult, especially in period of crisis.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and lockdown shed light on the content challenges we’re experiencing. It highlighted that the content on some of our websites is not relevant and up to date. It also pointed up duplication of information between websites.

To support our communities and services during the crisis, we created a substantial new section on Renfrewshire.gov.uk. The pages within this new section and our supported communications contributed to a significant increase of traffic on our website. Our public website has had 900,000 users between March and September, which is near 50% more than in the same period last year. This confirmed that Renfrewshire.gov.uk is the go-to place for our users.

Although this section worked brilliantly, we struggled to ensure content consistency with all the other websites. Having a lot of websites with similar content is a huge problem when you need to share important and accurate information to people. The content must be regularly updated on each website and this is time-consuming. Even more so when you need to liaise with the different departments and teams who manage these websites.

Screenshot of the Invest in Renfrewshire website
Both Renfrewshire.gov.uk and the Invest in Renfrewshire website have information for local businesses. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we've directed businesses and the self-employed to Renfrewshire.gov.uk for the most up-to-date information.

Besides, having too many websites creates other challenges than the ones related to content. For example, our websites can:

  • look very different even though they provide content for similar audiences
  • compete against each other on search engines for the same content terms
  • struggle to adapt to changes to regulations
  • duplicate technology and services provided by our suppliers

The Government Digital Service (GDS), NHS Digital or Co-op Digital have been dealing with the same issues with their digital landscape, all things considered. For instance, the Co-op had over 250 websites at the beginning of 2015. They then realised that they failed to ask themselves one simple question… do they really need all these websites to deliver their services? The short answer is no, which is why they started a programme to bring all Co-op services under the same URL: coop.co.uk.

Renfrewshire.gov.uk is the nerve-centre of our digital landscape

The Council is arguably not like the Co-op who had to bring hundreds of websites together. However, it still has too many channels that duplicate content and/or compete against each other. Simplifying our digital landscape is a necessity.

For this reason, we want to build a new Renfrewshire.gov.uk that will become the flagship and nerve-centre of our content and online services. It will meet the needs of all our audiences.

In practice it means that Renfrewshire.gov.uk will aim to absorb many of our websites. Bringing these websites – and services – into the same URL will allow us to:

  • create a recognisable digital brand that makes Renfrewshire.gov.uk the single source of the truth for our communities
  • help remind customers, service users and our workforce we do more than just the thing they came to the website for
  • provide more visual similarities between services, making the user interface intuitive
  • give us more autonomy to update and manage content, especially relevant in a crisis
  • give services access to effective, efficient and flexible technology
  • adapt quickly to changes to legal requirements

There will always be exceptions

Of course, there will always be exceptions where we need a new website siting apart from our main website. In an organisation like ours, there are a lot of great ideas, projects and campaigns we need to support digitally. Renfrewshire.gov.uk will be the answer most of the time, unless there is a strong business case for a different website.

We’ve started putting in place specific requirements to help us decide when a website should be created. For example, all future websites must blend with and enhance our digital landscape and not compete with existing websites. This requirement was met for the Paisley Museum Reimagined website, which was launched in May this year.

Delivering ‘brilliant basics’ first

Bringing websites together under the same URL – Renfrewshire.gov.uk – is a big job and will take a significant amount of time. We’ll need to review the content and technology of these websites and potentially delete or migrate them.

As we’re developing a new version of Renfrewshire.gov.uk, we’re going to start with the review of the current version to make sure we’re delivering excellent basics to our users.

We’ll do the same for our Intranet as we want to replace it by a staff section on the new Renfrewshire.gov.uk. As home and flexible working becomes more commonplace, putting our staff information straight into the public domain is essential so our colleagues can feel connected.

We’ll then understand how we can integrate our online customer portal (MyAccount) to the new website and review all the other websites including Invest, InCube, Planning Applications & Building Standards Register, Advice Renfrewshire, No Worries, Renfrewshire 2023, and Agendas & Minutes of Council Boards.

To do so, we will be working alongside subject matter experts from different services areas. Without their knowledge and expertise, it would be impossible to design and build the right content and online service on Renfrewshire.gov.uk.

It’s more than just a website

Developing a new Renfrewshire.gov.uk is a key objective of our Digital Experience Strategy, but not the only one. We will also aim to diversify our digital offering to reach our users on their preferred mediums. These include mobile apps, voice device technology and automated digital communications.

We’ll talk more about this objective in another blog post.

Philippe Fara
Philippe became Digital Experience Manager at Renfrewshire Council in 2019. His mission is to build a trustworthy, reliable and transparent digital experience for the Council.