• led by the Digital Experience Team at Renfrewshire Council

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Completion of the Alpha phase and next steps

Here’s what we did and learned in the Alpha phase with TPXimpact. Our next phase is to develop a new Renfrewshire.gov.uk on Drupal CMS using the LocalGov Drupal distribution as a starting point.

What we found in Discovery

In Discovery, we analysed our digital experience and found that it’s not working. It’s hard for people to find and use the correct information they’re looking for across Renfrewshire.gov.uk and other digital channels. We also identified many technical issues with how our digital experience estate is built and supported.

We categorised the problems we gathered into four themes and moved to an Alpha phase to test and confirm the digital experience architecture we need to build.

What we did and learned in Alpha

In Alpha, we explored how we could solve the problems and tested the recommendations we made in Discovery. We created hypotheses which were used to guide this phase. Our work looked to prove or disprove these hypotheses.

To help us deliver Alpha, 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 TPXimpact.

Here’s a summary of what we did and learned.

Domain model

Hypothesis

Defining a real-world domain model will enable people using Renfrewshire.gov.uk to easily complete the task they have in mind because they’ll be able to navigate the website efficiently using words they understand.

What we did

We started the development of a domain model for Renfrewshire Council using the OOUX principles and ORCA methodology. A domain model is not a sitemap of Renfrewshire.gov.uk. It maps the real-world things (also called objects) we need to represent on the website and it captures how people talk about them.

We found 15 core objects in our domain model like service, guide, funding, consultation, project, event, publication, and place.

On top of these 15 core objects, Renfrewshire.gov.uk will sometimes surface deeper and more specific objects.

For example, we created a system model (a more focused and detailed domain model) for waste services. We chose this area of the website because it uses multiple objects and its portion of traffic is significant. This allowed us to identify some specific objects like waste item, bin, and recycling centre, and start the content structure for the prototype of the new website.

What we learned

During this process we realised that there is currently no clear and consistent structure in how we represent objects across our digital touchpoints. For example, on Renfrewshire.gov.uk we sometimes treat consultations and news, guidance and publications, or funding and services as if they’re the same when they’re actually different.

We also realised that each of these objects weren’t clearly recognisable within the User Interface (UI) of Renfrewshire.gov.uk. They all use a basic article page template. It makes it difficult to find them and understand what their purpose is. Objects that are different should look different. Our users should easily understand what the objects are and what information they are going to get when using the website.

Now that we have a better understanding of the various objects for Renfrewshire.gov.uk, we can simplify the complexity of our information. We can develop a content model that precisely defines what we should publish online for each of these objects. This will lead to a user-friendly experience that aligns with real-world things people are familiar with.

Content authoring process

Hypothesis

Defining a Renfrewshire content authoring process will speed up content creation because the structure, substance, workflows, and governance of content will be simpler for stakeholders to understand.

What we did

Instead of using traditional sitemaps and content briefs, we stuck with the ORCA methodology. We used it to efficiently organise, prioritise and prototype the waste-related objects.

This approach allowed us to create a map that outlined the essential information (core content and metadata), calls-to-action, and how these waste-related objects were connected to each other on Renfrewshire.gov.uk.

We took each complex object and broke it down into smaller blocks, such as ‘service name’, ‘short service description’, ‘service fees’, or ‘eligibility criteria’. In this object map, we then added a style guide to each block based on GOV.UK and Gov.Scot content standards as these are the most relevant for us.

What we learned

We realised that having a content authoring process reflective of objects would provide multiple benefits.

By using this methodology, we were pushed to define and validate the substance of each object before moving on to tasks like content writing, interaction design and technical development.

We found the object map and style guide powerful tools, serving as a central repository for most content, UI, and development requirements. These tools helped everyone involved in Alpha to compare and understand the rationale behind objects and their attributes, whether they were visible on Renfrewshire.gov.uk or solely in the back-end of the CMS.

Even though the attribute from the object map were initially designed for the waste system model, we noticed that many of them could be reused across multiple objects. For example, the attribute for ‘eligibility criteria’ could be used across service, funding, consultation, and training. The reusability of attributes will decrease the need for UI and development work and re-work, ensure consistency, and allow “Create Once, Publish Everywhere” content thanks to the clear connections between objects.

Coherent UX

Hypothesis

Defining how and at which points the person using Renfrewshire.gov.uk moves to MyAccount.Renfrewshire.gov.uk (and vice versa) will minimise confusion because it will be evident to them it’s just part of a seamless user journey.

What we did

As we worked on the waste-related objects, we also explored how to integrate Renfrewshire.gov.uk with MyAccount.Renfrewshire.gov.uk to create seamless user journeys that span both websites.

To ensure a user-friendly and accessible experience while maintaining the Renfrewshire Council brand identity, we looked to GOV.UK and Scot.Gov pattern libraries as inspiration. Using Figma, we established the foundation of our own design system.

We then created mobile prototypes for essential user journeys and tested ways to simplify online tasks. These journeys covered user needs like:

  • Check your bin collection dates
  • Find your nearest recycling centre
  • Apply for a garden waste collection permit
  • Find how to dispose of some foil and an old mobile phone
  • Check what goes in your green bin.

These prototypes represented various objects including service, guidance, place, waste item, bin, and collection date.

We paid particular attention to the user journey for the garden waste collection permit because it started on Renfrewshire.gov.uk (Drupal), directed the user to MyAccount.Renfrewshire.gov.uk (Granicus), and then brought the user back to a Renfrewshire.gov.uk page (Drupal).

What we learned

We conducted usability testing for the user journeys on both the existing Renfrewshire.gov.uk and the prototypes. The results confirmed the following:

  • Maintaining a similar user interface (UI) between Renfrewshire.gov.uk and MyAccount.Renfrewshire.gov.uk would reduce confusion when users move between the two websites.
  • The new object-focused approach would enhance navigation and usability, ultimately improving the overall user experience.

The usability tests demonstrated a clear and positive impact on ease of use and increased user satisfaction with the new prototypes compared to the current Renfrewshire.gov.uk.

The System Usability Scale (SUS) score improved significantly, rising from 50 on the current website to 93 on the new prototypes.

Technical architecture

Hypothesis

Designing the technical architecture and development processes of the future digital experience estate will support coherent UX and significantly improve performance, scalability, maintainability, security, and sustainability.

What we did

To put our technical architecture hypothesis to the test, we established a well-defined solution architecture with clear functional integrations, a robust security plan, and efficient development tools and processes.

We explored the value of delivering an HTML design system for use across Renfrewshire.gov.uk and other council websites. We outlined the key technologies for delivering this library, including Storybook, Chromatic, and Twig, and then proceeded to build a prototype HTML design system with these tools.

In addition, we developed a proof of concept for the waste prototypes with LocalGov Drupal and integrated the HTML design system to Drupal.

The object map informed how each object and its properties would translate into the building blocks provided by Drupal. We also used Schema.org types and markups like GovernmentService and RecyclingCentre to enhance search engine optimisation (SEO).

On top of the Drupal proof of concept, we tested the integration and usage of the HTML design system with MyAccount.Renfrewshire.gov.uk.

We also tested the integration between Drupal and GatherContent, ensuring that the object map and style guide were reflected in the technical setup across both platforms. We created different connected templates and blocks to assess:

  • the ease for content editors to create and publish content in GatherContent
  • how content blocks would be managed within GatherContent before being imported to Drupal (and vice versa)
  • how content transfer between the two platforms could be automated.

Finally, we conducted various technical architecture activities related to internal search, SEO, accessibility, hosting, security, development processes and standards, analytics and performance, and compliance.

What we learned

The Alpha phase has provided us with valuable insights into the technology required for our digital experience estate.

We found that LocalGov Drupal serves as an excellent starting point for Renfrewshire.gov.uk and Staff.Renfrewshire.gov.uk, offering a cost-effective means to implement the necessary features for improving usability, accessibility, security, and performance, while also facilitating efficient content management.

We were able to demonstrate how an HTML design system could be seamlessly integrated with Renfrewshire.gov.uk and other websites on the Drupal platform, as well as other applications like MyAccount.Renfrewshire.gov.uk. This integration ensures a consistent and accessible user experience across various digital applications.

We clearly defined key requirements and tools related to accessibility, hosting and security to effectively support Renfrewshire.gov.uk and the wider digital experience estate.

Lastly, after assessing GatherContent we recognised that it could significantly limit the content authoring experience within Drupal, which is an important consideration moving forward.

User-Centred Design (UCD) approach

Hypothesis

The processes that are needed to support a UCD approach will be the most effective and efficient way to discover, design and deliver council services that people need.

What we did

We’ve carefully documented all the steps we followed to create the prototypes. We’ve organised them in a way that allows us to replicate these steps for other areas of the council when building the new Renfrewshire.gov.uk and Staff.Renfrewshire.gov.uk

To achieve this, we’ve taken a hybrid approach by combining the OOUX process founded by Sophia V. Prater with activities from the well-established Double Diamond methodology. This combination allowed us to have an easier transition from the Define phase to the Develop phase using the ORCA methodology.

For example, we began with a comprehensive problem definition phase to ensure that we accurately understood and validated the user problems before embarking on the ORCA process. We also used a combination of “How might we” statements and the object map to inform the creation of sketches, wireframes, prototypes, and the development of both the Drupal instance and the pattern library.

What we learned

This approach demonstrated many benefits.

It encouraged us to focus on the overall model for Renfrewshire.gov.uk before diving into the finer details we needed to publish online. Identifying our objects and their attributes early on enabled us to create suitable design patterns for them.

By defining these tangible objects, including their relationships, attributes, and calls-to-action right from the beginning, we could establish clear requirements for content, UI, and development. This significantly reduced confusion and complexity, especially during the later stages of prototyping, and helped us establish a shared language across different roles.

The use of the ORCA methodology also revealed that we can build a sustainable Renfrewshire.gov.uk, despite inevitable brand design or technology changes. Real-world objects and how people understand them change slowly, so structuring the website around these objects aligns well with users’ mental models for a long time, providing a stable and user-friendly digital experience.

However, there were some limitations to this approach. It couldn’t be effectively used to design unique items like a homepage, an ‘about us’ page, or a footer. Additionally, we recognised that this methodology had a steep learning curve, which we’ll keep in mind for future phases.

What’s coming next

Through Discovery and Alpha, we’ve defined and tested a roadmap to develop a successful digital experience estate.

This roadmap will include two delivery phases:

  • Renfrewshire.gov.uk delivery phase (starting mid-2024)
  • Staff.Renfrewshire.gov.uk delivery phase (starting 2025).

These delivery phases will be executed through the collaborative efforts of an internal team and external resources.

Until the start of the Renfrewshire.gov.uk delivery phase, the internal team – which recently welcomed new team members – will continue the development of the object map, pattern library, and prototypes for our future websites.

Philippe Fara
Philippe is Digital Experience Manager at Renfrewshire Council.