Oxford City Council wants new website to be ‘place people choose to go’

15 Jan 2016, 3:45 pm

218px-Bridge_of_Sighs_OxfordOxford City Council launched a new website this week, part of the council’s plans to increase online customer contact by more than 10% in the next three years.

The current amount of online contact with the council is 26%, with the target to increase the amount to 37% by 2019.

“The figure is fairly conservative, but we’re trying to be realistic,” said Neil Lawrence, digital development manager at the council. “We’re tracking [take up] every month. We want to make it the place people choose to go to, not because they have to, but because it’s great,” he said.

Many of the savings will come from a reduction in phone calls due to the more accessible online information and transactional services of the relaunched website. “Our aim is to spend less time on trivial things and more time on things people really need to speak about,” Lawrence told Local Digital.

For example, a new ‘tenant’s portal’ aims to decrease the number of calls regarding housing repairs – currently the highest source of calls to the council – by allowing council housing tenants to easily report and follow their case online. The majority of calls from council housing tenants are made to chase progress, according to Lawrence.

Residents can now create an account, select a date and time for the repair and track their entire repair history online. A form presents information according to the resident’s kind of tenancy or ownership status and to factors such as whether they have special needs.

Other improvements included redesigning user journeys, and rewriting content to remove jargon and shorten pages. The whole website has been made accessible via mobile device after the discovery phase revealed that 40% of visitors accessed the old website from a mobile device, although the website was not designed to be mobile friendly.

And the council has redesigned its 120 transactional forms – such as forms for moving council house or reporting graffiti – to make them more user friendly. Previously, a lack of usability meant that users were abandoning the forms before reaching the end.

Fortnightly updates

The website was designed by Jadu’s Spacecraft Digital, a digital agency that provides user experience research, design and delivery resources. Oxford also used Jadu’s Continuum, a ‘light’ Customer Relationship Management  system offering web content management and electronic forms tools, under a five-year contract (read more about Continuum). “It has fortnightly updates – so there’s no annual ‘crash’,” Lawrence said. “One of the reasons we chose Jadu is that it has a good local government base. They offer a lot of things out of the box that help us, without the need for special customisation.

“We’re keen to make sure we can add things to the website. We wanted a system that allowed us to create ‘mini sites’ that operate in their own domains and we’re going to launch two in February within the same CMS. The advantage of Jadu’s product is the ability to manipulate pages using widgets to create a single look and style, so we can do more for ourselves,” Lawrence said.

The relaunch had to account for the diversity of visitors to the website: a large commuting workforce, a high student population (resulting in an overall turnover of residents of 40%), as well as tourists. Some 57% of website visitors come from outside of Oxford, looking for information on transport links, parking, visitor attractions and events.

Lawrence and his team are now working on ways to increase confidence among residents who are digitally excluded, by devising ways to help them get online. Oxford City Council has chosen an iterative approach, with alpha and beta phases, so that teams can go back and make improvements as necessary.

User testing continues.



Image: “Bridge of Sighs (Oxford)”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons