Socitm e-engagement conference – 12 December

Kate Vogeslang – Lambeth Council

Lambeth Council launched their new website in January 2014 – ten years after the launch of their previous website. Kate Vogeslang gave an excellent insight into this project.

User engagement

Lambeth Council kicked off their web project with a hack weekend. Sixty people came along including (most importantly) residents, councillors, staff and web experts. They were also lucky to have Richard Pope from GDS as an interested resident. They also stumbled across a web designer and UX person in the crowd, who worked for periods on the project.


The scope of the project covered web redesign, content review, and implementing a new Content Management System (they moved to open source – Drupal). However, at the heart of it all was keeping the customer at the centre of everything they did.

Now we have all heard that phrase before from councils, but it appears Lambeth truly embraced it. They are a co-operative council. This is a new phrase to me. The council as a whole wants to break down silos and put solving customer problems at the centre of what they do. The Leader backed their project from the start – vital to have top-level stakeholder backing


They started with data before engagement. You cannot start with a completely blank bit of paper. You need armed with your web stats, search stats, online feedback – it has to be evidence based.

They did a wide variety of user engagement / UX testing throughout the duration of the project. They did not use a long-winded specification and ditched designs along the way – agile, agile, agile…

They set up a central point in a disused coffee shop, fired in a few laptops and got real people to come in and give their opinions throughout the project and other projects. What a great idea to do testing outside a stuffy council office setting. They also did formal accessibility testing and more fun guerrilla testing, where they took a laptop out in the streets to get opinion from customers.

Keep your friends close – and your critics closer

They also faced their doubters and critics head on to engage with them as they regularly challenge via social media. They have turned them into advocated for their new website.

Reviewing content

I spoke about rebuilding website content at Brighton SEO a few years ago. It’s looking at your top performing content and search activity to decide what stays and what goes when reviewing your content.

The Lambeth website had the usual 90% of customers viewing their top 250 pages. You know what – that stat might not be completely accurate but it’s pretty close to what every council’s website stats look like – trust me on that one.

So why have 5k pages when in reality you need 500? Lambeth cut their site right back to focus on their top performing content.

This is interesting as we also heard from Kevin Jump who illustrated websites, which have been redesigned, and it got me thinking that there has been a lot of lipstick used on a lot of pigs. There is no point in building a new website and using the same content. It is wasting money. You must review content and be brutal with it. Challenge ‘statutory information’ until your blue in the face.

Lambeth Council still have a devolved content model, like the vast majority of councils – to me, this doesn’t work and there is no point me writing this blog if I cannot challenge that myself.

Kate also highlighted that the web team is not relatively funded when compared to customer services. One FTE working on web. I would imagine this is a familiar story.

Kate also talked about the Needatron – I must confess a new phrase which I scribbled down and now understand more from reading the GDS blog.


Karen Sullivan – Head of Customer Contact at Croydon

Karen kicked off with some interesting stats and the one, which struck a chord with me, was the reading age of their residents being 12. How do they know that? I need to find out for our website as we need to pitch using the right language when reviewing website content.

They also use devolved content management model and vastly reduced their website content. Like Lambeth, they have also switched to open source, Drupal.

Reducing calls about library services

Karen talked about a soft, medium and hard push to get customers managing their library account online.

  1. Give the customer their PIN number and encourage them to go online
  2. Remind them the next time they call that they should be doing this online
  3. Final chance – do it online or we cannot help you

Ok, I might not have got those exactly right but you can see the principle. They reduced call volumes from 50k to 1k – that is fantastic!

Encouraging sign up online

Customer service agents have a target to sign up five customers every day. If they sign up 10, they can go home for the day. Now, that type of incentive would properly encourage staff to encourage residents to sign up.

Revamping the face to face experience

Karen talked about how they have transformed the face-to-face experience, including the physical settings of their offices, plus meet and greet staff using iPads to speed up the customer experience. Formal desk settings have been removed as staff speak to customer where they are sitting. There are children’s play areas a TV screens with Sky News to keep customers occupied while they wait.

Karen also mentioned that 40% of their customers live on two housing estates and are more than capable of dealing with the council online.


Vicky Sargent – Socitm

Vicky spoke briefly about customer accounts and the fact they are not properly explained at the point of sign up.

She also mentioned taking opportunities to encourage customers to register online such as messages with the annual council tax bill.


Aideen Flynn – Socitm

Aideen showed videos of customers trying to deal with social care queries online. She highlighted that social care content has not progressed in the last ten years and we are stuck with council jargon eg reablement.

We must all focus on the top social care tasks on our website and review the customer journey. As Aideen highlighted, sometimes the small changes can have a big impact.


Kevin Jump – Jumoo

It is always a pleasure to hear Kevin Jump speak. He says exactly what he sees. Kevin has built a tool called localgov.pagespeedy to look at all council websites, which highlights redesigns and loads of other cool information – very vague, but I have not had a chance to really dig into it yet!

Kevin talked about how sites are following similar styles and played the icon game. This took the icons used on council websites and blurring the text beneath them to see if we could figure out what they meant. Some sites have had a icon frenzy and the deeper you go, the more icons you need to create. There are not standard icons so they are mishmash.

The important point was we do not get regular traffic to our council websites. A customer comes irregularly so they will not be familiar with the icons. Kevin pointed out that icons and replacing pictures. However, now is the time that text replaced icons – with Edinburgh Council’s website being a great example of this approach?

Ian Litton

Ian Litton finished with an update on the national approach for identity assurance and attribute exchange.

I’d like to read this presentation in full again to really get to grips with where we are with this project as it seems to be taking small steps in the right direction – I just need to figure out how we can get involved. So, apologies for not talking in any detail about this one.


And finally

It was another great Socitm event. It was smaller than a lot that I have been too which was great as there was more opportunity to talk to other local government website managers and officers who are in similar roles.

Feel free to comment if you disagree or I have misinterpreted anything from this event.

Alan Ferguson@alanfergs


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