The future Northants programme

How we used a partnership approach to design and build new websites for two new unitary authorities in Northamptonshire.

Client
North and West Northamptonshire Council
Service
Technology
Deliverables
Two unitary websites

About the project

Seven district and borough councils and one county council in Northamptonshire have combined. This local government reorganisation in Northamptonshire will aim to save the county money in the longer term, while putting resident needs at the heart of two new unitary authorities. 

North Northamptonshire Council and West Northamptonshire Council are now open for business and serving residents and communities across the county. We’ve been supporting this transition, working with staff from the eight existing councils to deliver two new minimum viable websites that help residents find information and easily access services. We focused on creating strong digital foundations, making sure the websites can form part of more complex resident experiences in the future.

Our process to execute this project

Working collaboratively, we wanted to use data from across Northamptonshire to create two new fully accessible websites, useful for residents as they adjust to changes in their local authorities and beyond. 

Working in a multidisciplinary team we did a rapid discovery of the work done to date and analysis of the eight current web estates. These activities helped us understand the constraints, size and complexity of the problems and helped us make decisions about the target architecture.

During discovery we also mapped out existing service content and built up a picture and roadmap of what content would need to be migrated to the new sites as a priority for vesting day. Setting up a research and testing panel of over 400 residents, we were able to get feedback on their experiences of using the existing websites and test our early design prototypes and the private and public beta websites.

 "It's great, a very informative homepage and I'm more encouraged to use this new site."West Northamptonshire Resident

Creating the design system

Creating a solid design system for the new sites played an integral part in making sure the foundations and re-usable patterns allowed the website to meet the urgent needs of residents. The design system contains every visual and interactive component that will appear on both council websites. It also acts as a visual library, where all the components used for the frontend can be thoroughly tested against a range of requirements such as accessibility, variable content lengths and responsive design.

The code for our design system uses a popular javascript library called React, and is built upon a UI component library called Storybook, which allows us to create individual components which can be grouped together in any way we choose. Each component is then published and distributed through an open package manager which anyone can utilise. These are brought together by the North & West frontend apps and are populated with content from the decoupled content management systems for North & West.

Design system diagram

We used Drupal as our content management system as it provides an open-source technology, built and maintained by a global community. Its flexibility and scalability could also adapt to meet demand as the two authorities grow and develop.

Beta sites

In early Private Beta testing of the websites we chose one of the service areas in high demand: bin collection, recycling and waste. After testing this and iterating on the design and functionality we launched a Public Beta of both websites on 15 January 2021, with enough features to test the usability of the journey’s between the new and sovereign websites. Our aim was to give staff and residents an idea of the basic design, branding, look and feel of the content and the overall resident journey and get feedback to iterate and improve on the pages and journeys throughout the sites.

Council service listing page

Residents found the Beta websites clean and easy to use. Additional feedback we received through testing was carefully sorted, prioritising urgent changes that needed to be made ahead of vesting day and loosely defining new user stories that would need to be explored in more detail as part of our ongoing delivery roadmap.

“We’re genuinely ambitious for the future of West Northamptonshire and excited by the opportunities created by modern online tools, including our website. And by putting digital first it will help to make things easier and quicker for residents and businesses, as well as being more efficient for our staff to work with.”Cllr Ian McCord, Leader, West Northants Shadow Authority
“Simplicity and accessibility were at the heart of our efforts to create this important customer platform for North Northamptonshire that we are proud to launch on this historic day.” Rob Bridge, CEO of North Northamptonshire Council

Impact

We’ve designed, developed, tested and iterated the new websites to ensure the best possible outcome for residents, local businesses and council staff from day one. The Public Beta Version of the website launched on 11 March, and on 22 March, both sites scored 10/10 on an automated accessibility checker.

Accessibility checker west results

Accessibility checker north results

West Northamptonshire Council and North Northamptonshire Council websites went live on 1 April 2021 to coincide with the official vesting day of the new authorities. 

In the next phase of work, the websites will continue to iterate based on feedback and usage data and more content will be migrated over time to eventually decommission the original sites. We’ll also start the integration of more backend systems and tools with the website and support transformation that matters as part of more ambitious plans for both North and West Northamptonshire’s services over the next two years.


Northamptonshire council new websites


“The end result was a powerful team, fully committed to the goal of delivering the sites. We have received many plaudits from within the council about the project and how we have worked collaboratively across all councils.” Richard Beards, Website and Digital Team Manager

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