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

The GIF that keeps on giving

When people ask me “What’s a GIF?” I often end up shouting/singing “It’s Peanut Butter Jelly TIME!”

Geeks like me will remember this adored GIF from about a hundred years ago, it did the rounds on sites like MySpace (ask your parents kids), Reddit and Tumblr.

Peanut butter gif

GIFs are a series of still images compressed into a single file. The file then plays as a short animation made up of those single, still images. Think of a GIF as a high tech flip book.

The GIF format has been around since 1987, early users of the World Wide Web used the format to add movement and interest to web pages. GIFs were often used on pages to display errors, buttons or if a page was under construction.

Under Construction gif

As technology, web design and the internet evolved GIFs soon fell out of fashion, the use of GIFs on webpages soon became outdated. Social media would be the only saviour for this format. The GIF had to evolve from just a moving image to a medium for communicating feelings, moods and movements.

The Rebirth of the GIF Format

Users of Myspace and Tumblr started to use GIFs to reflect moods or make statements. GIFs were soon paired with everyday statements, questions and funny sayings. This type of post was often relatable and sharable.

Loki reaction gif

GIFs are now used on nearly all social media platforms and are commonly used by marketers to help add a bit of humour and personality to campaigns. GIFs aren’t just for fun though; they can be used to promote products, increase brand awareness, as tutorials or to show your company’s culture.

Emoji gif

Using GIFs at Nottinghamshire County Council

I decided to make a GIF to promote a children’s pop-up theatre play showing in Nottinghamshire libraries, ‘The Boy and a Bear in a Boat’.

The microsite we created for this play features a moving image. I wanted to recreate this in GIF format for our social media channels.

I used Photoshop Elements to create the GIF. First I created a new image, ensuring that the canvas was transparent. I then added the waves and the image of the boy and the bear. I wanted the GIF to move, so it looked like the characters were out at sea.

To do this I created multiple layers of the same image and moved each layer in a different direction. The end result was a single Photoshop file with multiple layers; each layer contained a slightly different image – like a flip book!

I then saved the file as a GIF and the result was a moving image – Success! The whole process took about 1 hour but with practice I could halve this.

Here is the result:

Boy Bear Boat gif

I used this GIF on Twitter and Facebook to help promote the upcoming play. A GIF works perfectly with this campaign as the whole idea of a children’s pop-up theatre is fun!

I have used the GIF twice on Twitter with good results. We gained more retweets when using this GIF compared to previous tweets using just an image.

Yesterday Twitter also introduced a new auto-play feature, this means GIFs and videos now play automatically when a user scrolls through their feed. This means more users should now see moving GIFs increasing the chance of improving engagement.

Twitter autoplay video

We are planning to continue creating and using GIFs on our social media channels. It can be a great way to use a backlog of images and can help add personality to campaigns.

Posted by Yasmin Newell, Digital Content Officer

Our Digital Design Philosophy

Part of Nottinghamshire County Council's Digital Design PhilosophyWe’ve done a lot over the last few years to ensure the Council has a strong, consistent brand. Yet, we’ve mainly focused our branding efforts offline.

So, our Digital First project provided a timely opportunity to review our brand and our approach to digital branding.

The result is our Digital Design Philosophy – ten principles that keep us focused on meeting our customers’ needs. Relevant, trusted, universal, authentic, innovative, modern, customer focused, joined up, engaging and open.

These principles help explain both our approach, what we hope to achieve through digital branding and are also relevant to and will become integrated with our brand generally. For example, ‘authentic’ means our online voice will be appropriate for the context – ranging from authoritative to entertaining – but we will always sound authentic, human and warm.

Another one is ‘trusted’ which we’ve defined as: our online services will be trusted sources of information which are helpful, reliable and valued by Nottinghamshire residents. Our ambition in terms of being ‘innovative’ in digital design is to take a new and exciting approach to design that anticipates and satisfies customer needs without leaving anyone behind.

Our starting point in developing our philosophy was to look at the BBC’s Global Experience Language, which provided an interesting approach to considering our digital brand. We see the digital design philosophy as a first step towards what may become our own Global Experience Language – a set of standards which allow all the parts of our digital estate to look, talk and behave as if they’re part of the core and help us ensure that even the parts of it we’re not directly delivering achieve the same high level of user experience.

As a Council, we need to remain true to our core values of fairness, value for money and working in partnership so these are clearly reflected in our approach to digital design.

We were determined to communicate our brand values from the customer’s perspective, so we’ve tried to reflect what outcomes our digital design aims to achieve – such as customers can perform tasks online in the easiest possible way and encouraging online conversations so people can express their views, to help improve services and support local democracy.

We’ve keen to keep developing our digital design philosophy as part of our brand, so do let us know what you think of our first attempt to put our digital design ethos into words.

Open and download a PDF of our Digital Design Philosophy.

Posted by Clare Yau, Group Manager Marketing.

Collaboration and sharing through Pipeline

We’ve joined LocalGov Digital’s Pipeline network to share the work we’re doing and look for opportunities to join up with other councils and public sector bodies to collaborate on digital work.

LocalGov Digital, the network for digital excellence in the sector, has created Pipeline to improve the way councils communicate with each other on what they’re working on, or thinking about doing, to increase collaboration in the sector and reduce duplication.

We’ve already added our work around high level personas which we’re developing as part of our user research work, as well as details of our website rebuild. We’ll be adding more projects as we get going on building digital services for the new nottinghamshire.gov.uk over the next few weeks.

We’ve also joined projects posted by other councils such as the Care Act assessment forms and election results dashboard listed by West Berkshire Council. We’re already doing work, or have a system we can share, for these pieces of work and as we’re adopting a ‘digital by design, open by default’ approach sharing fits well with our Digital First approach.

We’re looking forward to seeing more projects being listed – there are already around 80 organisations and more than 30 projects on the network – as well as being able to share and improve our work by being more closely linked with other councils.

You can take a look at Pipeline here and we’d love to hear what you think of us being a part of it or how you think we can get even more benefit for Nottinghamshire by collaborating with others – http://pipeline.localgovdigital.info.

Posted by Sarah Lay – Senior Digital Officer. Sarah is also Communications and Community Management Lead for LocalGov Digital

Blueprint on a page

BlueprintCommunicating large-scale, complex and cross-Council projects in a simple and easy-to-understand way is, as we all know, challenging.

That is why we have “borrowed” a concept that we particularly liked that is being used by the New Zealand government (opens a PDF). It’s called “Blueprint on a Page” and uses a mixture of graphics and words to communicate what the mission, vision, activity and, most importantly, the difference it will make to all the customers and stakeholders.

This focus on outcomes along with the timescales hopefully makes it easy for anyone, no matter what their knowledge of the subject, to quickly grasp what it is all about.

Also, the process of getting it down on a page challenges the project owner’s own understanding of what will be delivered and by when, which is often not a bad thing in itself.

Alongside the Blueprint we’re working on our Site Ethos which will give more clarity and talk about the why of our content, design and technology for Nottinghamshire.gov.uk. The Ethos is another idea inspired by the work of others – in this case Kevin Jump who explains the value of creating an Ethos on his blog here. We’ll post our version here soon.

Anyway, the idea is that the Blueprint does the talking – so it is over to you, let us know what you think (leave a comment or send us your thoughts using this form). If it is a concept that works, we will try and roll it out for other projects in the near future.

You can open or download a copy from the link at the bottom or click on the image to see a bigger version.

Open and download a PDF of our Blueprint on a Page.

Posted by Martin Done, Service Director Communications and Marketing.