West Berkshire Council

Digital Services Blog

Highlighting the work of our Digital Services Team

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Building Services Using Accurate Data

How we're benefiting by using the government's new registers

Written on: 19-3-2018

JSON Bank Holidays

Rather than buy IT systems for every new online service we provide, where we can we're adopting a 'Government as a Platform' approach.

What this means is for common tasks like making a payment, sending a text, or completing a form, we try to re-use what we already have. Not only does this help to create consistency across all our online services, it saves money as we're not buying systems that have some of the same functionality over and over again.

The same is true of data, and where possible we try to refer to a single source of authoritative data across everything we do. An example of this are the registers provided by the Government Digital Service (GDS). Registers are live lists of data, each managed by a someone from within government. They represent the government's approved version of that data.

Some services such as bulky waste collection have specific days of the week for different areas, but when that's a bank holiday we don't collect on that day. Because of this we've started to incorporate GDS' public holiday register into a new service we're creating for bulky waste collections, which means we never need to keep this up to date.

It's only a minor part of creating the service, but we'll be re-using this data for every new service that's affected by a bank holiday and there will soon be tens of other registers available, to incorporate into our online services.

It's a great example of how we're providing better, cheaper services by reusing freely available and accurate data.

You can read more about registers from the Government Digital Service here.


Digital Collaboration Agreement

Working together to create better, cheaper services.

Written on: 14-11-2017


Following discussion between the Digital Services Team here at West Berkshire Council and our counterparts at Oxfordshire County Council, we're pleased to announce a Digital Collaboration Agreement.

In the spirit of LocalGov Digital it's a non-binding collaborative agreement between our two councils, and at their discretion each team will:

  • Share code and other digital development for common platforms and systems with their counterparts, where there is no impact on intellectual property rights or other legal restriction.
  • Advise their counterparts, where one council has particular specialist knowledge that would benefit the other.
  • Support their counterparts in demonstrating developments they have delivered, including to senior managers or members.
  • Meet bi-monthly with their counterparts.

We're hoping it will save both councils time and money, whilst offering support to our colleagues who are transforming services for their citizens.

Time Shift

Our website isn't just for when other channels are unavailable

Written on: 3-7-2017

Website Users by Hour of the Day

"24 hour access to our information and services" is how we promoted our website in the past, and it's still true that our online information and services are available day and night, every day.

Things have moved on however, and whilst our website is still well used up until 10pm every weeknight, it sees the most use between 10am and 4pm on working days. In fact at weekends our website only gets half the use it does during the week.

We know this by using Google Analytics to tell us when people use our website.

This is partly because the online information and services we offer are so good that people want to use them, but more than that, it's the way people to expect to interact with a largely service based organisation these days.

We're pleased we can meet the needs of our users by offering better, cheaper services online, whenever they want to use them.





Assessing our capabilities

Written on: 7-6-2017

Many services the council offers are supported by a set of basic capabilities. The ability to take a payment, the ability to record a request for service or information, the ability to store and retrieve specialist knowledge, and so on. When they're used to deliver an online service they're often referred to as "digital capabilities".

As part of our digital transformation work, the council's Digital Services Team will be asking all of our departments and the teams in them how they currently provide seven capabilities, and from this we'll build a picture of what we do now, and how we might approach these functions future. Our aim is, where possible, to provide one solution to support these basic functions across the organisation.

The seven capabilities

  • Record and process a request for service or information
  • Take a payment
  • Scan a document and display it electronically
  • Talk to a service user using online chat
  • Record and retrieve professional knowledge
  • Record and process praise, feedback and complaints
  • Send bulk correspondence

We're also already looking at booking a room, place at an event, a resource, or officer time, and administering and running a course.

There are many benefits to this approach. The economy of scale of providing the same IT system across many services and the ability to offer people more joined-up and consistent services. It gives the council the building blocks to transform existing and create new services much cheaper that we're able to currently.

By autumn we should have a broad picture of where we might better use digital capabilities across the organisation to deliver better, cheaper, more joined up services.



Seeing through the eyes of your users

How your colleagues see things probably isn't the same as your users

Written on: 23-3-2017

Making your digital services and information accessible to all is important. This includes everything from opening up the language so it's understandable by as many people as possible, to designing your forms and templates so they work with screen readers and other accessibility aids.

Something more fundamental than this that affects almost everyone is the size of screen they use, and yet it can often be overlooked. Most websites now use responsive design or even better RESS which is great, but it's important to check how each service or page looks using different screen sizes.

Sometimes colleagues don't understand this, but it's easy to demonstrate the stark contrast between the two groups by comparing screen resolutions. So based on Google Analytics from the whole of 2016 here's how users view the internet:



and here's how colleagues see the internet



so when building a service or designing content, to make sure it's accessible to all, remember to see through the eyes, or to be more exact the screens of you users.