• led by the Digital Experience Team at Renfrewshire Council

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Digital Experience programme update: completion of Discovery and next steps

In 2021, we partnered with TPXimpact (formerly Manifesto and FutureGov) to run a Discovery phase and translate our digital experience ambition into a clear plan of action. This phase has now been completed and the next major milestone is the launch of a new Renfrewshire.gov.uk on Drupal, an open-source Content Management System.

Getting ready for a Discovery phase

In 2019, we started to look at the context of our digital experience. We worked with our colleagues from ICT and Customer Operations to audit Renfrewshire.gov.uk and other digital channels. Very early in our research, we saw that our digital experience was fractured and inadequately supported by the existing technology and ways of working.

By gathering as much information as possible about the problems, we got sense of what the purpose of our digital experience should be. Based on the issues and challenges we identified, we developed a long-term vision and a plan to redesign our digital experience, starting with a new Renfrewshire.gov.uk.

In order to inform the requirements for a new Renfrewshire.gov.uk, we carried out a Discovery phase to further define success and how we were going to achieve it. Our main goals for this Discovery phase were to:

  • validate and build upon the findings from our first diagnosis
  • establish a direction of travel for our main websites and digital brands
  • identify technology solutions, including a suitable Content Management System (CMS), supporting digital experience solutions, and hosting environments
  • analyse resources and expertise, ways of working, and governance
  • identify the most adequate financial route.

To help us meet these goals, we decided to bring in external digital experts. We published a procurement opportunity on the GOV.UK Digital Marketplace and we awarded this contract to two external digital agencies, Manifesto and FutureGov.

Insights gathered in Discovery

Manifesto and FutureGov analysed our digital experience and carried out different research activities including a deep-dive user research into two selected service areas, Special Uplifts (collection of waste household items and appliances) and Housing Repairs. This Discovery work validated the diagnosis we made from our previous research: our current digital experience is not working. We struggle to make our online services more effective and create value and positive experiences for our citizens, local communities, and staff.

We categorised the issues and challenges we gathered into four themes.

Theme 1: user experience

It is difficult for our users to navigate through our digital channels to find what they are looking for. The experience doesn’t always feel intuitive and joined-up, regardless of the platform being accessed or device being used. Many of our websites have their own brand and information, which can confuse users as to whether it is a council owned service or not.

Theme 2: accessibility and compliance

The information and services that we provide online must protect people’s privacy and allow flexibility for everyone. This includes those with impaired vision, motor difficulties, cognitive impairments or learning disabilities and deafness or impaired hearing. There is a lot of room for improvement in this area. For example, to comply with web accessibility regulations – which are part of the Equality Act 2010 – and ensure people can easily find and use information on our digital channels like Renfrewshire.gov.uk, we must stop publishing content into PDF documents.

Theme 3: clarity and equal access

There is very often contradictory information on our different council websites. This results in confusion and a lack of trust from users.

Also, our online information and services should be easy to access, and everyone should have equal access. However, it’s not always the case. For example, many members of staff don’t have access to our intranet and its content.

Theme 4: ways of working and maintenance

Many of us at the council don’t know the best route to get advice, progress with the development of a digital service, and select the right technology and channel(s). It can mean we jump to solutions too quickly and decide to develop new channels like websites without reusing the technology, content, and resources we already have. Also, the maintenance of our channels can be difficult, with minor issues being hard to fix and expertise not readily accessible. This leads to the issues highlighted in the themes above.

Key changes to deliver a successful digital experience

Based on the insights we gathered in Discovery, we have planned the best option to develop a successful digital experience that will support the delivery of valuable information and services, improve the way we work, and enhance the efficiency of our services.

We will simplify our digital experience and support it with a new digital experience infrastructure and a new way of working. These are significant changes in our organisation and they are fully supported by the council’s senior management team.

A simplified digital experience

We have too many websites. Simplifying our digital experience is a necessity. We will develop one version of Renfrewshire.gov.uk that will become the single source of truth for our citizens, local communities, and staff. It means that Renfrewshire.gov.uk will absorb existing websites and brands. For example:

  • For residents and businesses, we will make Renfrewshire.gov.uk the single source of truth so they can easily access information about living, working, and investing in Renfrewshire. Brands such as MyAccount and Invest will be re-aligned under Renfrewshire.gov.uk.
  • For colleagues, we will retire the Intranet and provide information on Renfrewshire.gov.uk so they can easily access information about doing their job and working at the council.

A new digital experience infrastructure

Our existing technology doesn’t allow us to implement the vision, so we shaped a new digital experience infrastructure. We did a thorough market analysis with engagement with suppliers to carefully select the right technology at the core of this infrastructure.

We have decided to decommission some of our Content Management Systems (CMS) and build our future Renfrewshire.gov.uk on Drupal CMS, supported by GatherContent and other Digital Experience (DXP) tools.

We will continue to invest in the Granicus platform as the tool that provides the transactional element of online services. We will develop user journeys between Drupal and Granicus to allow smooth transitions between the two without the users realising they are in different systems.

This infrastructure will be scalable and flexible. It will also protect us against cyber-attacks and make regulatory compliance easier to achieve.

A new way of working

To have a successful digital experience, we need to protect and support it with a new way of working.

First, the Digital Experience team will manage and support this infrastructure in collaboration with other digital teams. All council services will benefit from the new infrastructure with expertise from the team, which means they won’t need to buy or develop their own digital experience solution such as a website, unless there is a specific business case for it.

Second, we are moving the strategic development of our digital experience to a centralised governance model. This will ensure we prioritise and invest in the right digital experience solutions and develop them with the right expertise and standards. This means council services will need approval from this governance for new digital services such as websites or online forms. We will develop an easy process for them to submit their requests. We will consider, prioritise, and action these requests in line with the vision to make new council content, transactions, and online services part of the single Renfrewshire.gov.uk ecosystem.

And third, we will create a more collaborative environment with colleagues from all digital teams to encourage a multi-disciplinary approach and develop a better digital experience together.

Next steps in the roadmap

There will be no ‘big bang’ launch for Renfrewshire.gov.uk, but rather a phased go-live where we release the new as we decommission the old.

We will launch a beta version of Renfrewshire.gov.uk in the second part of 2023. Why this date? The Cabinet Office has notified us that our current website doesn’t comply with Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018. This is part of the Equality Act 2010. As we are replacing the current version of our website, we have made an agreement with the Cabinet Office to launch a compliant beta version in the second part of 2023.

Until then, we will implement our new way of working and bring additional expertise to our team to run different phases of work – Alpha and Beta – and design and build the new website on Drupal. We’re currently preparing for new procurement opportunities for Alpha and Beta. We will give more information about these phases in the coming months.

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.