Collecting feedback and improving user experience

We described back in June how we were testing and using feedback to inform the content on the site in its beta stage.

This has continued post launch. We’ve been gathering comments from customer service staff, services and website users. Nottinghamshire.gov.uk features a short survey (only four questions) asking users what they came to the site to do and whether they found what they’re looking for.

Despite our careful proofing before publishing pages, this feedback has highlighted some ‘quick fixes’ such as spelling errors and broken links, as well as more substantial suggestions on the site design and navigation. We’re logging all comments on Trello, assigning them to team members to action and archiving them when complete.

We’ve also been using HotJar – a (paid-for) tool that measures user behaviour – to monitor how the pages are being used. From the heat maps it provides, we can see the most popular areas of a page and how users are scrolling and clicking through the site.

Hotjar screenshot

One example of how I’ve used this information is on the Rufford Abbey and Sherwood Forest Country Parks pages, where I could see that viewing the car parking charges was a hot area of activity. Although they were in a prominent position on the page, the information was only available as a PDF download. When I needed to create a new page for the parks’ festive opening hours, this gave me an opportunity to improve this content and create calendar views for car parking charges.

I’ve also been using the HotJar recordings to see how users are using our what’s on/events listings. Being able to see how users on different devices and browsers are navigating this section of the site has allowed our team to make improvements, such as reducing the default number of events shown when browsing on mobile to reduce the scrolling length.

These HotJar tools do have limitations; you can’t interact with the user or ask any follow up questions as you can when user testing in person. However, there’s also less chance that you will influence their behaviour. For our team, it has been an effective method to gather a significant amount of data about users’ actions and opinions of the website, which we are using to improve the overall user experience.

Posted by Lucy Pickering, Digital Content Officer

Digital Champions

As Member Digital Champion, I know the amount of hard work that the digital team and colleagues from ICT and customer teams have put in to reach the goal of having one of the best websites in local government.

That is why it is particularly pleasing for Nottinghamshire to be honoured for a string of well-deserved national awards.

We won Digital Team of the Year in the UK Digital Experience Awards and an Excellence in User Experience win in the 2015 UXUK Awards – both of these were for the website development. In the UXUK Awards our new site was praised for being “exceptional” and a “benchmark for local government”.

Also, I am particularly pleased that our digital team leader, Sarah Lay, has won the Lifetime Achievement Award in the  Comms2point0 Unawards. I have to say she seems far too young to be picking up a lifetime achievement award! But, seriously, well done Sarah and well deserved!

We have also been shortlisted for Digital Council of the Year in the prestigious LGC Awards 2016.

While I it would be easy to see this as the end of the journey, I think we are at the start. Martin Done, our communication director who has overseen this digital transformation, is now looking how to take it to the next level which is really exciting and encouraging.

So watch this space!

Councillor Darren Langton
Member Digital Champion

Avoiding the fate of Sisyphus

When we made our new website www.nottinghamshire.gov.uk live, we announced that we had finally got to the start line – this was the beginning of the journey not the end of one.

Rather than being a moment to sit back and relax in the smug afterglow of go-live, it was time to roll up the sleeves (not that they had not already been well and truly rolled up!) and start improving the customer-centric site based on lots of live data that was flowing in from real users.

The fact that the site had been in public Beta for about four months meant that the issues were relatively few. Having developed the site entirely using an in-house team meant that any problems could be fixed cheaply within hours or days (I doubt this would have been the case if we had procured a digital solution from an external provider).

But the point about this blog post is to describe how we got to the start line.

It seems that many local authorities end up feeling like Sisyphus – the king who, according to Greek mythology, was condemned to push a huge boulder up to the top of the hill for eternity. Each time he nearly got there it would roll back over him and he would have to start again from the bottom.

But what makes local authority digital progress feel so sticky?

As the Digital First sponsor, which is the programme that is seeking to deliver multiple digital transformation strands, I have learnt a lot since I joined the authority from the private sector about five years ago. I have to admit, I never appreciated the amount of behind-the-scenes work and corridor conversations that would be needed before we truly got going.

  1. Get senior management buy-in – this is easier said than done. The directors need to believe in your abilities to transform the website. A lot of this is about changing the culture – websites are seen as bits of technology and therefor sitting firmly in the lap of ICT. Until the directors can see that the customer is the driver, not the technology, progress will be slow.
  2. Political backing – as with the senior management, elected Members need to understand the benefits of pursuing a customer-centric approach to the website design. Regular meetings with senior members helped to change the paradigm. This was followed by establishing a Digital Member Champion and regular reports to Committee with show and tells incorporated
  3. Consistent Messaging – as professional communicators we can sometimes forget the basics for our own business. We developed a set of messages that we repeated often until they became almost a mantra within the organisation. These included it being about the users not technology and how it would unlock savings for services
  4. Internal territorial battles – sort them out beforehand! Some authorities have seen digital as a battleground for territory with lots of areas staking a claim. The reality is that all have a case and need to be involved – roles and responsibilities need to be clarified at the outset to stop this becoming a distraction to the main objective
  5. Engage with services but place customers at the heart – positioning this is critical in terms of success. Services have often produced content from their perspective using language that they would use rather than the customer. To move from this position requires an evidence-based approach that presents real feedback from real users
  6. Build momentum – promote small wins. It is not just good enough to deliver. You need to spend time building the narrative, using infographics to show the result in easy-to-understand ways.
  7. Establish team credibility – build up your team, recruit the best that are available, make them believe in their own professionalism. Move from a “generalist” digital tag to ones with deeper specialisms around SEO, UX and data analysis
  8. Project manager – get a good one! Resolving conflict along the way is critical. There will be issues that need to be addressed and you need someone that is bold enough and politically astute enough to know when and how to get things unstuck.
  9. Cultural issues – as everyone knows, culture takes an age to change and the only way to do it is by lots of small steps with constant repetition of what you are doing and why. Don’t think that because you have said it once, that that is enough
  10. Never give up believing that, one day, you will roll that boulder up that hill!

While it would be easy to brag that we have delivered a new website, developed a new social media strategy, built a new schools portal and reviewed 50 microsites in the space of just over a year, the reality is different.

Getting to the point when we had the go-ahead to build a specialised digital team that would deliver such an important transformation programme has taken considerably longer. It is hard to pinpoint the exact point it started but ever since I joined the authority five years ago  it has been my ambition to deliver a website that would take us from the back of the middle of the pack to near or at the front.

And, while we are not there yet, we are certainly on the way thanks to one of the strongest and most talented digital teams in local government.

We are finally starting to push the boulder up the hill – let’s just hope the fate of Sisyphus does not repeat itself!

Posted by Martin Done, Communications and Marketing Director

100 days of beta

On Tuesday 22 September we transitioned the new nottinghamshire.gov.uk website from beta to live, making it the official online channel of Nottinghamshire County Council.

This followed around 100 days in the public beta phase where we built, tested and refined content and website structure. It was a really useful process to go through and meant that we’d tackled a lot of issues and questions – both big and small – before making it the official website and redirecting our customers to it.

But in truth this is where some really interesting work begins. Now our customers are arriving at the new website from search engines (and other starting points) we can see, with significant volume, how they are using the website and begin to understand more about how we can continue to make things better for them. We’re excited to move more services online through the website, improve more customer journeys (with end-to-end process design) and test the details of the design and content with some multi-variant and further usability testing.

Moving to live wasn’t done with a perfect site, but with a site where more content was improved than not. It was done in a way where we tried to cause minimum disruption to our customers but rather provide a smooth transition from our old site to the new. And it was done at point where we’d learnt a lot from beta testing and iterating but in many areas would get real value from seeing real customers carrying out genuine transactions.

There is a still a lot to deliver on the website and through Digital First (we’re still working on our social media, mircrosite and intranet workstreams too) but having moved between phases it is a good time to reflect a little on what we learnt over the summer.

Going into beta early is good

There’s a balance to be found on when to go into a public beta but we found that having some, not all, of our content in place and having the beta running parallel to the existing website worked for us. We were able to continue with our development while gathering feedback, we were able to drive traffic to it when we needed more information about work we were doing and it really helped with having conversations with services and customers as we were able to show, rather than tell them about, the thing we were building.

Doing the hard work to make things simple

There have been some problems that have challenged the delivery team but were vital to tackle, problems that are perennial across digital delivery in local government. From the information architecture to legacy systems, as a project and as a Council we weren’t satisfied with recognising these as complicated but rather wanted to really grasp them and try to find the solution. This is hard work by the team in order to make things simple for our customers. We’ve made progress but we’ve a long way to go.

Leave no link behind

We did a huge amount of work to put in place redirects so that the transition between beta and live was as seamless as possible for our customers. Did this work perfectly? No. Did it work perfectly in the majority of cases? Yes. We can count on one hand the number of pages which 404’d accidentally rather than on purpose. Despite reducing our site by around 20,000 pages we tried to make sure that each old page pointed at something relevant wherever possible. We think this will pay off with Google but more importantly we hope it will pay off with our customers too.

The team is important

Building an in-house team has been important to delivering at this speed and scale. Being able to mobilise the right mix of skills, knowledge and experience as well as having hands-on control of our technology has made a huge difference to our ability to deliver. It’s also given the benefit of supporting the culture change in the organisation, enthusing services about the possibilities of digital and sharing skills to improve the digital capabilities across the workforce.

Keep kicking at the walls

Customer needs first; functional design can be beautiful; content is important; the whole customer journey in all its wibbly-wobblyness between channels is vital to understand and deliver for. These are some of the truths we’ve stuck to in the delivery of Digital First so far and form the foundation for the project moving forward. The way it has always been done in the past doesn’t have to be the road map for our future.

Live is just the starting line

For many web projects putting a site live is an end point and despite best efforts the site depreciates in value from there as development slows or stops and governance (often) is too flimsy for the content it manages. That’s the old way, the usual way but it isn’t ours.

Now we have real people using our site for real transactions we’re prioritising the small iterations that will make that easier for them, the things that could be presented better. We’re also getting to work on development sprints for areas of content or functionality we want to push further.

Moving to live is a big step, but it’s just another in a longer journey.

Posted by Sarah Lay, Senior Digital Officer (Digital Team Leader)

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You can find our website at www.nottinghamshire.gov.uk and if you’d like to leave feedback you can do so through this survey.

To keep up to date with Digital First work and find out about opportunities to get involved in usability testing sign up to bulletins from emailme.

Making nottinghamshire.gov.uk live

Our new website www.nottinghamshire.gov.uk went live yesterday after 18 months of hard work that was focused on making sure that it was a site built around the needs of users.

All through this project, we have been keen to push the message that this is about people not the technology and that what we were seeking to achieve first and foremost was a highly functional site that meant as many people as possible would choose to carry out transactions online.

The fact that we were able to have the site in Beta for four months before launch meant that many of the improvements had already been made and when we switched sites there was not the usual dramas or nervousness around many web launches.

The fact that we used an in-house team to develop the whole site means that we can continually improve the site as we monitor usage and feedback – this is the main advantage over using a third party to develop your site which often makes the improvement cycle slow and costly.

We are now able to promote a Council website that is fit for the modern age and will support the move of many of our services as possible to an online delivery. It is a proud moment.

Councillor Darren Langton, Digital Champion

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You can find our website at nottinghamshire.gov.uk and if you’d like to leave feedback you can do so through this survey.

To keep up to date with Digital First work and to find out about opportunities to get involved in usability testing, sign up to emailme.

Championing digital opportunities

I’m lucky that my passion for representing the interests of local people and for digital technology are the perfect combination for my job as Councillor and Digital First champion.

As a lead Councillor I help raise awareness about digital opportunities with both local people and County Councillors. During the life of our Digital First project, I will be ensuring that the voice of local people – both those who are technology-savvy and those who are not – is at the heart of digital improvements.

I’ve realised myself that technology is only an enabler – the key thing is to ensure that people have a positive experience of online information and transactions provided by our Council, so that digital services enhance and improve people’s lives. It’s about making things easier!

Perhaps councils and councillors are not best known for an amazing use of digital technology and we do have a lot to prove here in Nottinghamshire , so you will need to bear with us until we have transformed the foundations of all our digital services – our main website.

This work is well underway and it’s been fascinating to see the feedback we’ve received, and the results of testing, put into practice on our Beta website. Feedback and testing shapes everything from the structure, navigation, content and design and building openly allows us to work out how best to deliver our online digital services for our customers .

Keep checking this blog to see how we are doing. In the meantime, if you have a thoughts about our Digital First project then don’t hesitate contact me or email me at Darren.langton@nottscc.gov.uk.

Posted by Councillor Darren Langton

What are words worth?

Those of a certain age may recall the song ‘Wordy Rappinghood’ by American new wave band Tom Tom Club. Although I’ve defined Tom Tom Club as new wave, the track itself was less genre specific, challenging the perceptions of its early ’80’s audience with a heavy rap and funky disco influence.

Lyrically it also presents a challenge, especially if you overlook the rhyme and dexterity of Tina Weymouth’s vocal and actually begin to think about what she’s saying:
“What are words worth?” is the oft-repeated refrain. As a line in a song it’s easily overlooked but taken in context with the rest of the lyric and given some real thought you’re left thinking, well, what are words worth? What are words really worth?

It’s a question we in the digital team at Nottinghamshire County Council are continually asking ourselves as we develop content in the new website and it’s a thought process that, as I found the other day, can get the grey cells ticking over at the most unexpected of times.

Out for a lunchtime walk in the sunshine, I passed a cake shop (yes, colleagues, you read that right, I passed a cake shop!) with a small notice pinned in the window ‘Back in 30 minutes. Out on a delivery.’

My immediate thought was that the two sentences were the wrong way round. In my head the natural order began with the ‘where’ rather than the ‘when.’ But my digitised self then took over and quickly rationalised the thought process. What is it that the consumer (user) wants to know? The shop is closed, so what is most important to them? Is it the fact that the owner is out on a delivery, or is it the knowledge that the shop will be open again in 30 minutes?

Leaving aside for the moment the fact that the proprietor’s efforts to be helpful where immediately undone by the lack of an indicated start time to the 30 minute timeframe, the realisation was that the wording on the note, or in this case, more specifically, the order of the wording, was correct. Had I been visiting the shop, I would have wanted to know when it was reopening. I didn’t really care why it was closed. So, the order was right, but the ‘Missing words’ (“It just don’t make sense, the way you did the things you did” – there I go again, showing my age with musical references from my childhood) meant that unfortunately the shop ultimately failed its user test.

And it’s that way of thinking we’re continually engaged in as we review and rewrite content. We’re questioning each and every word, the way in which the words are phrased, the order in which they’re written, what’s needed and what’s not, all with the ultimate aim of enhancing the user experience and making the site as easy to use as possible. Is there a value to using the word? Is it the right word? Does including it make the overall content easier to understand?

“Hurried words, sensible words, words that tell the truth, cursed words, lying words, words that are missing the fruit of the mind”, sings Ms Weymouth (in French – more creativity in word usage!) as the song continues to provide the English semantics students amongst us with much to ponder.

Our aim at Nottinghamshire County Council is to build a website which provides that fruit and feeds the mind, leaving the user with a nutritional experience. That, to us, is what words are worth.

Posted by Andy Lowe, Senior Digital Officer.