Digital – the next frontier?

It all feels a bit like Star Trek’s famous split infinitive but we now need to push on into new digital territories!

We have successfully built the digital foundations that can deliver transformation across the Council – a new, vastly improved website, redesigned microsites, a refreshed schools portal and implemented a social media strategy. A beta version of our new intranet is also being built and should go live in the next few weeks. So what is the next frontier?

While we have undoubtedly improved the customer experience, regained control and visibility of our social media and established a solid platform, we have still not fully delivered the much-heralded savings that are often attached to digital transformation.

This is a point in the development that many others have reached; it is also a point that many get stuck due to the different challenges the next phase brings.

What makes me hopeful that we will make the necessary progress is the fact that all the achievements to date have been delivered by an excellent in-house digital team that we have built that has worked closely with ICT and Customer Service teams. If we had gone external in terms of delivery, I don’t think we would have developed the skills, knowledge or relationships that would all us to get us to the next level.

That said, while all the existing skills remain relevant and needed, I think that the next phase will also involve a different set of skills. This is because we will now need to push into territory that is normally fiercely protected – the area of service redesign. Anyone who has ever worked in local authorities will know that this is a step not taken lightly but there is no choice if we are to start seeing the true potential of digital. It is not about putting the existing process online, nor is it about optimising the current process and then putting it online. It is about designing a journey from scratch with a digital mind-set from the outset. That is not to say that offline elements of the journey don’t need to be considered – they absolutely do, but they can’t be the driving force. Also an offline option needs to be integrated into any design to make sure that those unable to use the online solution are not left behind.

The culture and management structure means that to get into this area – the heart of the Council – will take political manoeuvring, the leveraging of influence, keen project management skills and a dollop of luck for good measure. Oh, and if I am going to continue the Star Trek theme, a fully loaded space-age taser set to stun!

Taking this blog back to reality, I am fortunate enough to have a place on our Corporate Leadership Team which provides the perfect platform to help navigate through the many challenges and natural resistance. Anyone setting out on a Phase II digital project that involves going into service areas will need a sponsor at the highest level – preferably the Chief Executive – if they are going to succeed.

We are identifying all of those customer journeys that would deliver savings by being optimised for a self-service, online delivery. This will often mean replacing a labour intensive process with an automated process. It will meet resistance. (Note to Editor: resist using the Star Trek phrase “resistance is futile”) The first journeys are likely to be the most difficult. Early wins will be critical.

Where’s Captain Kirk when you need him!

Posted by Martin Done, Communications and Marketing Director

Personas – representing our customers

Sample persona - Beryl CumberlandWe’ve added a new tool to our user-centered design toolkit in the last couple of weeks: personas.

Personas offer a way to realistically represent our key customer groups online and can be used to help make informed decisions on design.

They’re a good way of keeping the customer and their needs in mind as we build our digital services, although they don’t replace contact with real people to research and test what we build.

We developed our set as part of the work we did with The Insight Lab (read their post for us on open card-sorting here) and represent the major primary, secondary and tertiary groups across nottinghamshire.gov.uk as a whole.

In order to develop them we used data about current usage, contact through other channels and experience from service areas. Through a workshop we got relevant colleagues together and created a huge set of potential personas before distilling these down to a smaller set by combining characteristics and looking for shared needs or themes.

There’s some great background reading about personas and how to create them on Usability.gov.

While a small set for the site overall is useful we may develop additional personas as we build our digital services.

You can see and download an example from our persona set here (PDF).

Posted by Sarah Lay, Senior Digital Officer

Card sorting: working out how to navigate our services online

Card sortingOne of the challenges we’re tackling as we build a new user-centred nottinghamshire.gov.uk is how to organise access to, and information about, our services.

We’re doing research on how people find their way to our website, if or how they move around it once they’re there, and how we can make our navigation intuitive to support their behaviour. We’ve delved into taxonomies and are investigating both on-site and external search. We’ve used data, analytics and undertaken user research too.

One of the activities we’ve carried out as part of this discovery is holding open card-sorting workshops with a range of our users. We contracted The Insight Lab to carry out this work with us and below their Head of Research, Dr Emily Webber, reveals the why, what and how of card sort workshops.

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When The Insight Lab first connected with Nottinghamshire County Council, they were looking for a user experience consultancy to run a series of card-sorting workshops, to help inform the re-development of the content structure of nottinghamshire.gov.uk, as part of their Digital First project.

Card-sorting is a simple but incredibly effective way of obtaining valuable insight into the ways in which different types of users’ group information and content in order to inform the design of information architecture (IA) where information is structured intuitively, meaning that users can quickly and easily find what they are looking for.

cards on tableThere are a variety of card sorting techniques which can be used for this purpose, but for this project, we decided on open card-sort approach. This requires users to sort cards containing website content into groups that make sense to them, and give each group a title that summarises the cards that sit within it. Findings from this process then feed into further research and validation methods, and form a great foundation of evidence for a user-centred site structure, which meets the expectations of those using it.

We were really excited to take on this project particularly due to some of the unique challenges that it presented, such as the diverse range of users that the website must cater for, and the large and varied amounts of content to be presented. Participants for the workshops were therefore recruited from across the county (we ran workshops across Nottinghamshire from Worksop to West Bridgford) and came from a range of backgrounds and levels of computer experience. Content for the card sort was carefully selected to reflect the varied types of information and plethora of services available.

Following an audit of current content and consideration of existing documentation, such as priorities and key user journeys, 61 cards formed the basis of the card sort. During the workshop, each participant first sorted these cards (which had a title printed on one side, and a description of the content of the other) into groups that made sense to them, and then gave each group a heading using a Post-It note. For example, a participant may have grouped cards such as ‘Studying’ and ‘Apply for a School Place’ under a heading which they titled ‘Education’ or ‘Schools’.

Participants were also encouraged to indicate any sub-groupings, as well as any cards they felt fell into more than one category (more Post-Its!),– for example ‘Report a Pothole’ may have been grouped under a transport heading, but then also linked to a ‘Report a problem’ group.

Although this data alone provides valuable insight into a user-focused IA, we wanted to provide further support for the findings using rich, in-depth feedback from participants. Following the individual card sorts, participants were therefore led in an open discussion, exploring points such as what they had found particularly difficult or easy to sort, cards which they felt were missing and issues with labeling and understanding, for example.

Card layoutResults from the card sort were then supplemented with points arising from the post-sort discussion to provide rich insight and outline actionable recommendations for the creation of a user-focused site IA.

The card-sorting workshops have proved an invaluable exercise in gaining insight into how Nottinghamshire residents perceive Council services, and how they understand and group content. The results will provide an excellent base for future work into the re-development of the Council website and its underlying information architecture.

Research methods including closed-card sorts and tree testing could be used to provide additional insight to support and extend the findings of these initial workshops, with results from all sources then feeding into a new user-focused Council website, where visitors can quickly and easily find the information they are looking for.

Dr Emily Webber is Head of Research at The Insight Lab, an expert-led consultancy, implementing user-focused research methods to drive the design of digital products and services that are simple, efficient and a pleasure to use. Find out more about them on their website.

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We’re looking at what our next step is now to design a clear information architecture for our website and we’ll update you on this as we do it!

Thanks to all who took part in the workshops. If you’d like to get involved with testing as part of our Digital First work then you can find out more here.

Taking a content inventory

In order to plan the steps we need to take toward building new online services for nottinghamshire.gov.uk we need to know what we already have, where it’s coming from and who’s using it at the moment. This means one of the first tasks we’ve turned our attention to is a content inventory of the current website.

This isn’t a small undertaking – the current website is a hefty 25,000 pages and draws content from or provides a gateway to a number of online systems (both in-house developed and managed web apps and third party systems). We need to know what’s there, where it’s coming from, who’s looking at it and how it fits with access through other channels.

As Kristina Halvorson explains (in her book Content Strategy for the Web),

If you don’t know what content you have now, you can’t make smart decisions about what needs to happen next.

The first stage of this is a content inventory or audit – an Excel spreadsheet which captures all of this information.

What did we do?

Carrying out the audit has been a whole team effort. Digital officers have moved through the current website and captured the structure and some basic data about each page or link. They’ve added to this web stats about each page – how many visitors it’s had in the last 12 months, how many of those were using non-desktop devices and what percentage of the total is internal traffic.

Around this extra information has been supplied by colleagues in IT about where the content currently lives (much of it is in our content management system but some is not) and from Customer Insight we can begin to build a picture of contact about specific services through other channels (and know where additional content to enable this is stored, for example in a customer relationship management system).

What have we found out?

We now have a detailed map of our current content and a high level view of how its being used.

We’ve confirmed some things we already knew – which areas of the site are popular, how big the site has grown and the many means of navigating the site can lead to some dead ends or multiple routes to content.

By capturing information on which bits of our site are aimed at specialist audiences, and match this with information on origin of visitors and contact through other channels we’re beginning to understand which content we might want to handle or locate differently as we move toward a new nottinghamshire.gov.uk.

We’ve also been able to see ‘hot spots’ on the site where the majority of visits are coming from non-desktop devices (such as smartphones and tablets). We knew that overall traffic from these devices accounted for around 58% of visits, and that our current site isn’t responsive so was probably offering a pretty poor experience for them. What we’ve seen through looking closely while carrying out the audit is that some pages have up to 80-90% from non-desktop devices. This information will help to focus research, design and testing on the new website.

What will we do next?

We’ll be using the content inventory as a base document from which we’ll be taking information to carry out specific tasks (such as doing card sorting and other exercises to inform the structure of nottinghamshire.gov.uk) but we’ll also be expanding it so we know more about the content.

While most of the current inventory is quantitative we’ll be expanding the qualitative side – analysing the effectivness as well as the accuracy and currency of the content we have. Much of this will be done as we rebuild services or areas of content for the new site but capturing it, and then building audit into our ongoing process of managing the new digital services, will help us make informed and achievable recommendations about the online services we provide. 

(Posted by Sarah Lay, Senior Digital Officer)