Buckinghamshire Council

Wagtail powers Buckinghamshire Council’s digital transformation

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Nick Smith

Senior Developer 21 Jan 2021 4 min read

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Buckinghamshire Council - the new unitary authority formed from five former councils - is delivering an ambitious programme to redesign local government in Buckinghamshire. 

We’ve been working in a consortium with our good friends at Unboxed and Scroll to design, build and launch a new user-centred digital platform at the heart of their transformation. 

Here’s the story so far. 

Get ready for Vesting day

First up, a new digital home at Buckinghamshire.gov.uk ready for ‘vesting day’ — the official date when the five previous councils merged to become Buckinghamshire Council. 

The progressive Bucks team spoke our language — user-centred design, open source, sharing learnings and code with other local authorities. We were all excited to be involved. 

Our partnership

Unboxed led on rapidly validating user needs for the MVP before developing and testing prototypes with residents (using the GDS Design System and recently redesigned council websites, like Essex County Council, to accelerate the project). Check out their web design guidelines and UI library.  

Scroll was in charge of all things content. They developed a new user-led content strategy and worked with subject matter experts across the council to write new content from scratch, to replace existing content that was incorrect, outdated or difficult for users to understand. 

We were in charge of tech. Crucial for us was to make sure we had built a solid technical foundation, but that we planned for the future as the site grows and existing transactional services get ported over. We used the open source Wagtail CMS and sped up delivery with our prebuilt Wagtail accelerator kit

Launching early and Covid-19

We were well prepared for launching the site on time on 1 April, when news broke that the new site’s domain would soon be printed in promotional materials and on the side of new waste lorries. In remarkably short time, we launched the site early at https://www.buckinghamshire.gov.uk/ in late January, with a banner announcing its beta status.

And then nationwide COVID-19 lockdown was announced in March, and we needed to provide information and advice about the state of local services, where residents could claim help, and where they could offer it. Scroll, Torchbox and Unboxed quickly produced a coronavirus information section, including using Wagtail’s FormPages to allow residents to sign up to volunteer.

When vesting day finally arrived, we were so ready that it was anticlimactic, in the best way possible for a site launch.

People are really impressed with the work you’re doing - I’ve had a bunch of questions this morning about new the pages and forms, mostly along the lines of ‘how did you do that so quickly and so well’

Ben Unsworth, Head of Digital, Buckinghamshire Council

Committing to accessibility

As with all public sector websites, there was a clear commitment to accessibility, wanting the site to go above and beyond what other councils had done in the past. Starting from the GDS Design System makes for strong foundations, and the commitment paid off: when we launched, the new Bucks site was the 4th most accessible council website in the UK - scoring 92.6% for Level AAA (we’re currently in 13th position with an AA score of 99.6%). 

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We published a separate post on how our developers carry out their accessibility audits, which shows the methodology used on this project. This was further supplemented by a third party audit from The Shaw Trust.

Integrating with Council services and continuing to improve

We built a separate integration with the Council’s recruitment platform, now at https://jobs.buckinghamshire.gov.uk/, to bring a consistent experience to the recruitment service, and allow us to use our own search engine and filtering for users.

We integrate with the case tracking service used by the complaints and feedback department, to build accessible, intuitive forms that conform to GDS guidelines.

We monitor user satisfaction on all pages, with a user feedback widget inspired by the one at gov.uk.

“Is this page useful?” widget

We’ve made improvements to the search facility to provide a better experience based on the way people search and the terms they use.

We compared several configurations and search engines, and scored them, based on ‘how far up the list of results does my intended page arrive?’. We also tweaked our parameters to improve the performance of the search page based on real user analytics, and added search synonyms based on different terminology, such as ‘waste’ vs ‘refuse’.

A new generic postcode lookup page has been created that can return different answers for different groups, for queries such as “does the carnival route affect me?” or “does my postcode qualify for solar panel grants?” etc.

We’ll continue to contribute towards standardised components for local authorities - e.g. GDS forms and integration kits for central government systems so other progressive councils can benefit from the work.

Also worth a read... 

Find out about our Accessibility Testing service

We can identify barriers your users may be coming up against, and suggest updates to improve the usability of the site for all. Find out more.

nick smith 2018.jpg
Nick Smith

Senior Developer 21 Jan 2021 4 min read

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