BHCCdigital – Developing customer focused digital services

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Today’s website show and tell

Hi, I’m Will and I’m new to the council’s Digital team. I’ve been here a couple of weeks looking at our offering to businesses big and small across to the city. More to follow when my feet are properly under the table.

I’ve just emerged from a packed 4th floor meeting room at Bartholomew’s House where we held today’s show and tell about the council’s beta website. You can find out more about the beta website in our earlier blogpost.

Ben and Thomas talked about the reasons for launching a beta, the design patterns developed by Clearleft (which look great!) and a new analytics tool, Hotjar, that will help the team take its understanding of the site’s users to new heights. I’ll leave it to Thomas to share more details.

Beta Hotjar show and tell

Did I mention the turnout? Standing room only – as you can see from the photo above.

Thanks Annie for organising and the invite. If you work for the council and would like to attend a future show and tell, or have an idea for one, please post in the comments.


Improving our online register service – reacting quickly and delivering results

Whenever we develop new digital services, we always put your needs, as a customer, at the heart of what we do.

We work in an agile environment. This means we can react and deliver results quickly.

We’ve recently been working with the Register Office. They were struggling with how their different pieces of technology were working together. We knew we could solve their problem, and after a quick team discussion we promised to fast-track a solution.

Four days later, the solution was in place. By being able to move quickly, we’ve been able to deliver a much better experience for the customer.

The challenge

Birth certificate - apply for a copy formThe Register Office team responds to requests from customers for copies of birth, civil partnership, death and marriage certificates.

Due to a lack of integration between our technologies, citizens had to use two separate forms to apply for a certificate and pay for it. The payment form also asked for information that the customer provided on the previous form resulting in duplication. This often led to mistakes where residents would complete the application form but not pay for it.

“We have problems with receiving forms without payment, and even payments without forms!”
Paul Wadsworth – Registration Manager

With two separate forms, our staff had to try and match up applications with payments which could lead to mistakes. For missed payments, staff had to phone customers and chase payments. This additional detective work slowed the entire process down and frustrated staff and customers.

At a significant time of their life – such as a birth or death – we didn’t want our citizens to experience stress and frustration because of technical obstacles.

The solution

We’ve simplified the customer journey and reduced the amount of time needed to process an application.

  • Customers now only need to use one form to apply and pay for a certificate because it is fully integrated with our banking system.
  • The form can’t be submitted without a successful payment so that staff don’t have to constantly check whether a payment has gone through.
  • Customers no longer have to input the same information in both forms which will make the process quicker for them and reduce errors.

The feedback

The solution has been in place for a few days and the feedback is very positive:

“Since the new form has been created it has taken a lot of stress and frustration away from our team and our customers. We are starting to spend a lot less time phoning customers chasing payments. We used to dread looking at the inbox in the morning for orders and now it takes a matter of minutes.”
Lucy-Anne Allen – Registration Officer

“The difference that this has made to the team is enormous! The time, stress and confusion, (for staff and customers) that the old system created was hideous. We now have a system that brings all the information together, no detective work needed. No matching up several orders to a payment. No calling frustrated customers for payment, despite their best efforts to order online. Thank you!”
Sarah Donnelly – Registration Officer

Dave Meakins is an information services analyst and works as part of the Customer First in a Digital Age programme at the council.

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Usability testing – how we run our sessions

We need to ensure that our digital services are accessible and easy to use.

We do usability testing to find out how people use the digital services we design and build. We record how people use our website and forms as they attempt to complete a set task and we ask for their feedback. This helps us understand how people use things in ‘real life’ and if this matches our expectations and designs. We take the feedback from usability testing and use it to improve the user experience (UX) as we build.

I wanted to share some things I learned from our most recent usability testing sessions.

a screenshot of a display showing council tax account information

A work in progress – our “view your Council Tax account” design

Alex and I carried out some usability testing on a new online service that will enable people to get information about their Council Tax account online.

I was really happy and felt the sessions went well. We met some people, ran through some scenarios and learnt some very useful stuff about how people were navigating through the task.

At the end of the day I wrote up some brief notes on how the sessions went and the things that I wanted to take forward to use in the next usability testing session. I smiled as I typed them up. Life was good. It was a beautiful spring afternoon. The sun shone. I ate lunch in the park.

However, and there’s no easy way to break this, the next day back in the office I was devastated to find that we lost all our audio for our testing sessions (in fact it never recorded). This was despite checking all our equipment and set-up before each session. (Cue very sad faces, and disbelief at how this could possibly happen) Pausing the software before each participant began was the cause of the problem).

Tips for running usability testing

Check your recordings after each participant

The lesson here isn’t to ‘not pause software’. It’s that if we had checked the quality of the previous session, before we started the next one, we would have spotted the error straight away, and been a lot less sad.

If you carry out usability testing, and are looking to learn from this blog, then the one thing I would like you to take away is to check your recordings. Check them after each participant and catch your unexpected equipment/software failures before they ruin your week.

You may find that you need to make smaller improvements, like adjustments to lighting or microphones.

We were able to salvage the situation with our notes, and the screen recordings without audio were more enlightening than I thought they would be.

Finally, here are the four other things that I felt were key for helping a day of usability testing run smoothly.


We use a laptop (MacBook Pro) for our usability testing as that’s where our screen recording software is installed.

We asked about internet use when recruiting participants for our testing, but we didn’t ask people about experience of different devices.

However, some of our participants had never used a mac before and appeared a little daunted. We added a simple question to our script, asking “do you usually use a Mac or a PC?”. Asking this question at the start of the session enabled us to provide reassurance to our participants that they didn’t need to know anything about Macs to complete their task.

Are you sitting comfortably?

Explicitly inviting participants to “settle in” made a real difference. Things to consider here are the position of the mouse and the keyboard. I positioned the mouse below the centre of the keyboard. This prompted participants to move it to where they needed it to be. I also encouraged people to adopt a good posture (mostly pulling the chair up closer to the table). Bonus for us, getting closer to the screen captured a better recording on the laptop’s web cam. (If we had an external webcam we could adjust its position)

Encouraging “thinking out loud”

At the start of each session we ask our participants to describe what they are thinking, doing and looking at as they go through the task, however sometimes this doesn’t happen.

Reminding participants, as they started the task, made a big difference to the amount of verbalisation. It’s really helpful to us when participants verbalise what they are doing and thinking as they complete the task. It provides an additional layer of feedback and creates a powerful impact when we share user testing sessions with our team. Of course verbalising is only useful if you capture the audio (*weeps*).

“Why am I here?” Reiterating the goal

We found that reminding participants during the session of the goal / task that we’d set was really valuable. Losing track of the goal could be a sign of high cognitive load, or that the process design is not supporting the task as it should, we are dealing with an artificial scenario in an artificial situation.

Onwards and upwards to the next session.

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Inspiration and surprises – our day at GOV.UK

We’ve already told you some of the broader things we learnt at GOV.UK, visiting their Government Digital Service (GDS) office in London, but I wanted to pick out some of the smaller, more personal details that I saw, so here’s a little bit more.

Bunting and post-its

Bunting and Post its

One colourful corner of the GOV.UK office

The first thing you notice walking into the office is just how colourful it is. I suspect it was the football (England and Wales were playing that afternoon) that made it feel a little emptier than expected, but the space was lit up with a mixture of post-its, bunting, live analytics displays, pictures and quotes. The window rainbows were particularly delightful.

This made a very busy, flexible space feel incredible welcoming and positive. It also made it really clear just how deep the ways of working were embedded. User needs were literally everywhere. Everything looked set up so that it could be taken apart and rebuilt the instant something needed to change. Everything was agile, basically.

Such process

One of the first things we did was watch a team ‘stand up‘, a daily ceremony where the team catches up on what they’re doing that day, and highlight any problems they have in their way.

Multiple teams do this in the same place, so there’s a strict schedule, with just seven minutes for each team. This meant that information was exchanged really quickly and concisely. Everyone looked really practiced, and so it went really smoothly.

This was just one element of an impressively elaborate (but sensible) system for funneling work through the people doing it.

Incoming work was ‘triaged’: some jobs would go to a team that just dealt with the things that take less than ten minutes, longer things went into the bigger work plan (and would eventually show up in those team stand ups). This meant it was spotted really quickly if the team wouldn’t have enough information to work on it, and responsibility was put back to the team requesting the work.

Technically, this is the same stuff we do when we’re prioritising work, but we’re normally doing it as one person or one small team, so it was fascinating seeing the process in running in an almost industrialised way. The scale of it was impressive, the smoothness even more so.

They’re the best around

The truth is, GOV.UK and the GDS are held as the gold standard of digital delivery in government. I’ve not met someone who works in local government digital who isn’t inspired by the work they do. I think I may have had a slightly dazed, glazed hero worship look on my face all day.

So it was amazing speaking to the people actually doing that work.

They split their job roles quite distinctly, and we spoke to a content designer, a delivery manager, a user researcher and an analytics expert (among others). Each of them knew their work inside out. It was really impressive.


Notes from our team catch up the next day

But two things made it even more inspiring.

Firstly, we knew exactly what they were talking about. They were saying all the right things, but little of it was surprising. They’re the best, because they practice it day in, day out. But we can do that too. We face the same challenges, and are pushing for the same things.

Secondly, we do all of those jobs at once. I think of my role as content designer (and now want it in my job title), but actually I’ve done user research, analytics and managed delivery of projects.

We’re only working with one council (with a lot less money), and they’re doing the whole government, so obviously they have a bigger team, and they split the roles up. We have less to do (though it never feels that way) but do exactly the same work. We just have to be all-rounders.

Honestly, I’ve never felt more confident in myself and my team, than nodding along and understanding some of the best in our field, and recognising it was how we work, and how we try to work.

Thanks GOV.UK

There’s so much more, but this is already getting too long. We were making notes furiously about the tools they used, what they call things (calling the search, navigation and information architecture team simply ‘finding things’ is genuinely brilliant; user needs, right in the team name), how they champion their work, and the difficulties they have. We know we’re going in the right direction, we just need to keep on moving. My confidence was boosted, but I still think we’ve got a long way to go.

Thanks so much to everyone we talked to (John, Jessica, Lucy, Natalie, Ray, Vin and Joe) for being so open and honest and helpful. Thanks to everyone else for letting us wander around and generally stand in their way! Thanks for an inspiring, surprising and educational day.

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Developing digital – what local government can learn from central government

We recently went to visit GOV.UK, part of the Government Digital Service. We went to see what we in local government can learn from the user-focused digital work happening in central government.


GOV.UK is where to find government services and information.

GOV.UK brought together hundreds of government websites under one domain.

Learning about user research

Learning about user research

A focus on users

The success of GOV.UK largely comes from the focus put on their users. They have a small user research team. This team conducts a wide range of research to find out what users want and how they use existing websites and services.

Research includes usability testing, focus groups, online surveys and visiting people in work places to speak face to face.

Visiting GOV.UK has enforced the need for us to continually speak to you, our users, to ensure what we develop is truly user-focused.

Quality content

The content team at

The content design team at GOV.UK

GOV.UK have a large content design team. The team is split into four sub-teams, who work on business as usual changes. Staff from these teams will sometimes work on larger projects to improve GOV.UK.

The content team work with user research and analytics to look at how people are using the website and ensure they are developing content that is meeting user needs.

Each content change is sent to the relevant Government service for “fact check”.

The content team then use a process called 2i reviewing. Every piece of content that goes online is reviewed by another team member, before it can go live. The purpose of 2i reviewing is to ensure that the content meets the GOV.UK style guide and is consistent across the GOV.UK site.

Having people working for your team who are content experts, to ensure your website is easy to use and navigate, as well as separately checking content for accuracy were two clear messages we took away with us.


GOV.UK have a strong focus on using data to evidence what works and what doesn’t.

Data analysts work alongside user researchers, using Google Analytics.

We met with a data analyst. He showed us how he tracks users’ journeys through the GOV.UK website. This shows if users drop out before they complete a task, the routes into the site. He works with the content team to test ideas on how the site is used are accurate. This ensures that content meets users’ needs and expectations.

The team gave us some good advice on how to use Google Analytics more effectively. We’ll also soon be using heatmapping analytics on our new beta website and our online forms, to gain a deeper understanding of how our users interact with us online.

Moving forward

The projects are currently working on

The projects GDS are currently working on

We will embed a lot of what we learned at GOV.UK in to the work we are doing as part of the council’s customer first in a digital age programme (CFDA).

We want digital developments that we release to the public to be:

  • focused around user needs
  • usable across devices and browsers
  • easy to read and understand
  • free of errors
  • simple to transact online

Some of the digital developments already in place:

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A new beta website for Brighton & Hove City Council

As part of the work we’re doing to transform our digital services, we’re looking at the current Brighton & Hove City Council website.

The site has over 5,000 pages and can sometimes be difficult to navigate and find what you’re looking for. Some of the pages are also too long and not written clearly enough.

Improving the user experience

To improve the experience for our users, we’ve been looking at:

  • the number of pages on the site
  • the sections of the site
  • the navigation around the site
  • the analytics about how people use the site
  • the content that’s on the pages, and
  • the design of the site.

We want to create a new website for the city of Brighton & Hove which is:

  • well written, using plain English
  • task-focused
  • user-focused
  • transactional (allowing users to self serve online)
  • simple to navigate, and
  • accessible on a range of browsers and mobile devices.

    Our new beta website

    Our new beta website

As part of this development of a new website, we’ve launched a new ‘beta’ website.

What is a beta website?

GOV.UK state that “The ‘beta’ label means you’re looking at the first version of a new service or web page”.

To create this beta site, we worked with a local agency to conceive a new design.

The design is based on the concept of ‘patterns’. Patterns are a repeatable solution to commonly occurring issues, tasks or functions that can reused across multiple sites.

Our patterns will be used across a variety of sites and other digital channels, such as the new ‘My Account’ site.

The new site is a work in progress, and currently only has limited content.

Over the coming months we will start to create more content on the new site.

Tell us what you think….

We’re always keen to hear what you think, so please either:


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Analysing our digital data – how do people interact with Brighton & Hove City Council online?

Hove City Council Homepage
The way our residents, businesses and visitors interact with us online is always changing.

We’re always keen to know how our customers choose to engage with us, so we’ve put together a snapshot of how people use our website as well as social media channels.

If you have any questions about the data below, please email

Data from 1 April 2015 to 31 March 2016

  • had 4,477,746 visits.
  • This is up from 4,219,585 visits the previous year (1 April 2014 to 31 March 2015).
  • We had 54% returning visitors and 46% new visitors.

What our website visitors are most interested in

  1. Planning
  2. Jobs
  3. Car parks
  4. Parking & parking permits
  5. Contact the council
  6. Recycling centres
  7. Elections
  8. School holiday & term dates
  9. Libraries
  10. Council Tax

How people find the website

  1. Search – 71% (70% previous year)
  2. Direct (bookmark or typed in URL) – 14% (11% previous year)
  3. Referral (links from other sites) – 13% (17% previous year)
  4. Social sharing – 2% (1.5% previous year)

Desktop, mobiles and tablets

  1. Desktop – 51% (previous year was 58%)
  2. Mobile – 34% (previous year was 26%)
  3. Tablet – 15% (previous year was 16%)

SOCITM Better Connected 2015 – a snapshot of all local authority websites

Every year our website is ranked against 415 other local authority websites. In 2015 we were ranked:

  • 15th nationally by usage (new entry in the top 20)
  • 10th nationally by share of the population (up 7 places from previous year)
  • 2nd most visited English unitary authority website
  • 1st most visited website in the south east.

Social media

As of May 2016, we had:


From 1 April 2015 to 31 March 2016 we:

  • sent out 3,992 tweets
  • gained 9,415 followers
  • had 98,584 visitors to our Twitter profile page, and
  • had 11,546 mentions.

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