Digital First | Brighton & Hove City Council

Welcome to Brighton & Hove City Council's digital blog

1 Comment

User research with adult social care

Hello, my name is Ivanka and I do user research.

User research gives a team the understanding it needs to design a good user experience. It also enables us to test any service and evaluate how well it meets its users’ needs.


I’ve just joined the digital first team at Brighton & Hove City Council. The first project I am going to focus on is with adult social care.

The council works with many different adult social care providers in the city. We pay them to provide care and support services to our citizens. We’re responsible for the safety and quality of that care. We ask providers to give us data to help us monitor and evaluate their service.

My job will be to understand the user needs of the people who provide the adult social care and the user needs of council staff who work with them. Those user needs will be used to develop and evaluate the tools that are used.

If your organisation provides adult social care in the city, you’ll almost certainly be hearing from me and, if you don’t, please feel free to get in touch.

Leave a comment

Sprucing up our stand ups

A glass wall with a pieces of paper and post-it notes stuck to it in rows and columns

The wall in the room where we hold our stand ups

I’m still pretty new at Brighton & Hove City Council- only a few weeks into the job. I was excited when I found out that the Digital First team have daily stand ups.

I’ve worked for organisations where daily get-togethers are like part of the furniture – essential, comfortable and helped everyone know where they stood (or sat).

So I was thrilled to see that the council ran daily stand ups too. Also that the folks here believe in constant improvement. It’s always worth revisiting what you do from time to time just to check it’s working.

A few weeks ago we decided to look at our daily stand ups and the kanban wall (a glass wall with tasks we’re working on) that supports them.

There was a general feeling that stand ups were drifting a little, and that work wasn’t getting completed as fast as we would like. Also it wasn’t clear looking at a card how big the task it described was, or who owned it.

How we’re changing our stand ups

We decided to make a few changes. First I knocked up a new card design with T-shirt sizes (S, M, L and XL) for tasks so we’ve got a better idea of what we’re letting ourselves in for.

Original sketch

Original sketch


The new card we're using

The new card we’re using

I’ve worked in teams that spend a long time estimating work before starting, and didn’t want to go down that route. Instead we decide on a S, M, L or XL quickly and either revisit the size or scope if the task is taking longer than expected.

Next, we’re keeping a much closer eye on work that’s blocked – how long and why. We’ve been using shocking pink post-it notes to label this so it’s hard to miss a job that’s ground to a halt. We’re also marking cards for blocked tasks using a tally. Adding a mark to a card in the stand up each time it’s blocked so it’s quick to see how long something has stalled for.

We’ve also switched the frequency of stand ups. We used to have them every day, but found that daily communication isn’t essential at the moment. Instead we’re trying twice weekly stand ups on Tuesdays and Thursdays – people get to know what’s going on, but time is freed up to get work done. As we break down work into smaller, more shippable chunks, we’ll likely switch back to daily get-togethers.

Finally we’ve changed the invite list. Anyone is welcome to attend (it’s an open house), but card owners (the leads for each task) must turn up. We’ve found that conversations need to happen twice a week or projects drift. Also Ali (our Head of Digital Transformation) and I need to know about blockers so we can help. Having fewer people in each stand up has made things more manageable, and sessions are generally shorter – always good!

We believe in constant improvement

There’s plenty more we’re thinking about. We intend to refresh Jira, our online project management tool, soon so it’s easier to find detail on any task, and keep our online wall in Jira and the offline wall (in the project room), in sync.

We’re also thinking about having swim lanes – grouping the cards for different services Cityclean, Adult Social Care and so on – as we start to dive into the detail. We may run separate stand ups for each one. More to follow in a future blog post.

I don’t think this is a purist’s way of running a stand up or a kanban, rather a few things that seem to work for us. I tend to mix and match ideas I’ve picked up in previous jobs and also suggestions from the team. If you have any pointers, we’d love to hear them.

1 Comment

Discovery at the chip shop!

Annie prepares to shadow the food inspection teamI had a fantastic time shadowing the Food Inspections team. For a start, I got to dress up.

We are working with them to learn how we can make the admin side of their job simpler and quicker. They currently have to bring a lot of forms with them. Each one needs an office copy and a premises copy, so they use a piece of carbon copy paper. Each piece is very precious as buying carbon paper is pretty tricky these days. We’d like to get those forms replaced with a mobile device, most probably a tablet. To make sure that we provide something truly useful, we need to understand the environment that they work in so that we can build something suited to it.

I shadowed Cathryn and we went to a chip shop. I was really pleased with the location, as who doesn’t want to get to see behind the scenes at a chippy! Cathryn is great at her job, really knowledgeable and brilliant at establishing a rapport with the staff. They were in the middle of renovating and seemed a bit worried about what she would think but she was really good at encouraging them and focusing on the important points.

I saw the kind of tasks that she has to complete, including checking temperatures, reviewing safety records and testing staff knowledge. At each visit she has a clipboard and a 3 page document with check lists and space for more detail. As she worked and talked, she scribbled notes to type up later. She then copied out the key points and recommendations onto another form (with carbon copied version to take back to the office) that she left with the chip shop.

There are all sorts of forms that she has to bring with her just in case she needs to take further action and serve formal notices. Before she goes to the appointment and when she comes back there is some printing out and scanning in.

Various pieces of paperwork used by the food inspection team

From shadowing her I understood the way in which we would need to reorganise the forms to streamline the process for her. Without seeing her in action on site that would not have been so clear. I could also see that when we choose what tablet to provide, it would need to be able to be propped up on worktops and have notes either typed on a keyboard or written with a stylus, as holding it in one hand and tapping with the other would not meet her needs. Shadowing is a not only fun but essential part of digital transformation work.

A jar of pickled eggsOnce we have developed the new form, if we can then integrate it with their office system, we can prevent the need to print out and scan in. That means even more time saved and even more chippys getting checked. So you could say I am helping the whole of the city have outstanding fish and chips!  I also got to see a chipping room with its huge peeling and cutting machines and stand behind the counter… sometimes my job is pretty cool.

Pickled egg anyone?

Leave a comment

We’ve joined the #VerifyLocal parking permits pilot

Last Tuesday we braved the rail strikes to attend the kick off meeting for the GOV.UK Verify parking permit programme in London.

If you’ve not heard of Verify before, here’s a video. It’s a tool built by the Government Digital Service (GDS) to help citizens quickly prove their identity when using online services. It’s part of a bigger push to make all government services simple and easy to use.

Regular readers of this blog will know that Brighton & Hove City Council is transforming its services too. Resident parking permits are highly sought after, so it’s right that this service is top of the list. We wanted to explore how Verify can help us make things simpler for our customers.

This is an interesting pilot for me personally. I worked at GDS a few years ago so was curious to see how it had developed as an organisation.

Anyway, back to the kick off event. Fourteen councils attended and you can see a list on the project blog. We were in good company – lots of talented public servants across the country wanting to do the right thing by their customers. I sat with Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and would like to thank Ian and the team for making us welcome.

Although the event was a whole day, we had a lot of ground to cover – the background to Verify and the pilots, mapping a typical user journey to get a parking permit, technical issues, privacy and more besides. There were several workshops and I was helped by Maria, a designer from GDS. Thanks to her, we achieved a lot.

I enjoyed the user journey mapping exercise in particular – a huge sheet of paper to chart a user’s steps through a particular service, their needs at each stage, the pain points, and how our teams interact with them. We repeated the workshop yesterday at Hove Town Hall with members of the parking team. Everyone got it, and we already have a good idea of potential improvements.

There’s a lot of work to do, but everyone is raring to go. We’ll post regular updates here, but please do drop us a line with any questions.

Leave a comment

Why we’ve renamed our blog

We’ve changed the name of our digital blog to “Digital First | Brighton & Hove City Council”

At a recent event I was talking about how the council is improving digital services for users. People were keen to read our blog and find out about the work we’re doing. However, as they went on their smart phones to have a look at the blog it became obvious that our blog was difficult to find.

It was time to take some of our own advice.

Using everyday language

It’s important that we use everyday language.

The previous name of our blog “BHCCDIGITAL – developing customer focused digital services” didn’t refer to the council in the way that most of our users do.

This meant that we were getting very few referrals from Google search.

It’s important that when we create content we –

  • use everyday language
  • design with data
  • consider our users’ point of view

And leading by example is vital too.

Leave a comment

Helping Planning with their online payments

The Planning team had a new service going live within a tight deadline. They were trying to make it easier for customers to make payments. This might even reduce their workload. Planning was already up against it in terms of work and really didn’t need any extra admin.

The ICT team were already really overstretched, and the Digital First programme developers were tied up on another similar project. So we decided to build the form alongside another, which had similar requirements and which already had development time allocated.

What went right

This was a good example of identifying and developing a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) quickly, working closely with a service.

Planning also praised our agile way of reacting and willingness to help. This will give our digital development team a good reputation and, I hope, open doors with services across the organisation.

On the actual development side, we’ve developed a new way of paying that keeps customers within an online application form. This is great because going outside the form results in a pretty mediocre experience. The new way is slick, easy to use and has been adopted with great delight by the Registrar team. We hope now that other services will want to use it.

Learning from what went wrong

One thing we learnt the hard way is we that we have to hold our ground and insist on discovery work, even facing high pressure deadlines.

By doing the discovery work it’s likely we would have avoided the outcome when Planning’s form went live.

At the start, we all thought fast payment would help Planning and would be something all customers would want. Right?

Well, that’s not how it happened.

Once we put it live, we only had one payment via the form.


This particular group of customers are normally businesses paying very large sums. They don’t want to do this by card. Card charges are too high on large amounts.

This was not anticipated before. The development team assumed that easy online payment would be simplest and quickest for everyone.

Most customers still want to pay by invoice.

So Planning didn’t avoid the extra admin either.

Putting user needs first

The Planning team were kind to us with their feedback. They said: “Your team did your bit brilliantly, but I guess it is hard to ignore the most used avenues of payment.”

We don’t think we did do that brilliantly. We built the form brilliantly, but there’s no point in building something brilliant if customers don’t want to use it.

No matter the time pressure, we should have asked the customer! User needs come first, and you need to know those needs to put them first. We’ve got to be expert at guiding staff on the importance of this.

First thing, before anything else, is to always ask the user!

We have the feedback from customers now and we know that they would use BACS in the form if available. Hopefully we can add this when we upgrade our payment system in the future. After more discovery work, that is.

This is a tough lesson learned, but one we can use as an example. When pressure from managers to deliver is high, we can use this example to show that good discovery will save time and money in the long run.

Leave a comment

Teamwork makes the dream work (and also the new text service!)

It is a bit of a corny title but it is so true. This post is in praise of real team engagement and collaboration and the results it can provide.

Our Revenues and Benefits team are fully committed to modernising their service and totally up for the challenge. We have had members of their technical and operational team working alongside us from the start as well as team leaders and frontline staff embedding the change and guiding each other and our residents along the journey. This had led to us releasing some great new products including online change of address forms, new Direct Debit facilities (more on these to come) and this week the results of our new text messaging service.


Digital First (the new name for CFDA) and Revs and Bens talking future releases

Residents now have the option to sign up for text reminders about Council Tax payment. We have trialed sending texts before paper reminders and found that within a month, 50% of Council Tax and 40% of Council Tax Reduction recipients who have signed up for the text service paid before we needed to post a paper reminder.


The text service sign-up page linked to in the paragraph above


A text only costs 3p, much cheaper for us than posting reminders and much more convenient for the majority of residents. A great result all round. And these results are currently from just sending a reminder with the telephone number to pay by phone. When the council payment system is upgraded so that the payments page on our website is compatible with smartphones and devices, we will be able to send a link by text directly to online payment. Imagine the results then if we are already achieving 50%!

Members of the council tax team

Some of the brilliant Revs and Bens team by the text totaliser!

However, we could make the most amazing new products in the world but without a team willing to use and promote them they wouldn’t bring residents any improved service or us any cost saving efficiencies. The team leaders and digital project managers make sure that staff taking calls receive on the spot praise if they hear them guiding residents through online processes and ensure they get coaching and toolkits. They have set up a Digital Focus group within the service. Staff have asked to have more input and involvement so they can feedback on what will make things easier for them. The systems programme manager is setting up workshops to involve them and get them voting on next steps. It is a total team effort, enabling us to deliver change, create efficiencies and improve customer experience….. and as a result, bring in , well…., how better to put it than bring in revenue….and benefits!