For us, 2016 was a pretty good year.
We’ve grown as a team, in terms of both actual numbers and through our experiences over the course of the year. We’ve continued to rebuild services based on user needs for new.shropshire.gov.uk – including a number of “big” ones, such as Council Tax and Benefits – and built new websites/sub-sites for services. We’ve also been involved in a number of things as part of the greater public sector community, from offering support and advice to other councils on how our team works and the pros/cons of the CMS we’re using (Umbraco – lots of pros, very few cons), to working as part of LocalGov Digital (consisting of other enthusiastic councils doing great things with digital) with the GDS team to create the Local Government Digital Service Standard (LGDSS), which we’re working towards adopting across the council.
Without wishing to indulge in too much smug self-back slapping, we’ve been pretty impressed with and proud of these achievements, and although as ever there have been a few difficult moments along the way, those challenges have only served to teach us lessons about the way we work, and how we communicate with the people we work with.
So now it’s time to look forward to what we can achieve in 2017:
New Shropshire Council homepage (the “new.v3” project)
This was actually triggered by the realisation that we’ve successfully rebuilt the majority of the main council services on new.shropshire.gov.uk (35 and counting), and this was starting to have an effect on the original “www” site. The full story behind this will be told in an upcoming blog post but, to summarise, this has led us to plan and build a new homepage for new.shropshire.gov.uk, and revamp the design of our existing content to make navigation easier – all part of our “new.v3” project.
We’ll be launching this new design and beta homepage later today (5 Jan 2017) – so keep an eye on new.shropshire.gov.uk!
More customer-orientated web pages
First up on our plans are Elections and Highways, both lined up to be redesigned and launched within the next couple of months. The former owing to the upcoming town/parish and unitary elections due in May, and the latter owing to funding being made available by the Department of Transport to those councils who can demonstrate that they’re using digital transformation to improve their services for the public.
Alongside these, we’ll also be reviewing the remaining services still on shropshire.gov.uk, and working up a plan to get these moved as part of the decommissioning/replacement of that site.
Some new websites/sub-sites
The changing landscape of local government has led a number of services to adopt a more commercial business model to supplement their budget, and we’ve been tasked with creating promotional websites/sub-sites for them. We’re also helping a number of partnership organisations/groups who have websites that need a bit of TLC, either through reviewing/restructuring their content or fully rebuilding their site.
This is a project that we started back in 2015, which aimed to extend the functionality of our current intranet, give it a bit of a makeover (I really do detest the current bland colour scheme), and launch it as a starter kit for other Umbraco users to enjoy. However, a number of high-priority projects and staffing changes meant that we had to postpone the work, and it never got back on the work plan… until now!
Hopefully, this summer will see us picking up the pieces and finally delivering what we promised so long ago.
Waste collection-day finder rebuild
It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly six years since we launched our “Waste collection-day finder” (see the post for proof!), which was pretty revolutionary for its time. Unfortunately, the code and server framework it was built on has fallen out of support, and there’s now an issue with it not being able to use the new format address data, so it’s time for a rebuild.
One of the benefits of a rebuild is that we can now make the data more open and reusable – especially if we can bring it in line with the work already done by the Local Waste Service Standards Project. This will mean we can easily pull the information back into our website (there’s potentially a spot for it waiting on the new homepage), and make it easier for everyone to find the information they need.
Over the last couple of years we’ve seen social media become one of the standard ways of communicating with the council, alongside the usual telephone, face-to-face and website channels. The downside to this is that the usage of social media platforms evolves relatively rapidly, with newer ones gaining popularity as others decline.
We’ve got to stay on top of new developments, and not be afraid of testing whatever new platform is in vogue. When the choice is to be part of a constructive conversation or sit on our hands blissfully ignorant of the needs of our customers, it’s something of a no-brainer. The trick is to determine which one will actually be useful to both us and the public… I’m pretty sure that people wouldn’t be interested in a Shropshire Council SnapChat filter, for instance!
The great unknown
No-one can confidently predict the future, and, as we’ve experienced, best-laid plans can easily go to pot when the unexpected hits. We’ve got a journey of 12 brand new months ahead of us, and half of the fun will be finding out what will pop up around the next bend. Whatever is ahead, we’ll be facing it with enthusiasm and dedication to producing the best that we can – just as we did last year.