An afternoon with the Digital Team…

By Adrian Clarke at Buckinghamshire County Council

As part of the ongoing alignment effort to dovetail the work and approaches of the BCC Digital and ICT teams, I recently spent a fascinating afternoon with Matthew and his team and wanted to share a few thoughts that stayed with me after the session.

People aren’t talking about technology

This is a point that would probably be a surprise to a lot of people. This is digital right? Surely that means the air is full of tech-talk and impermeable jargon?  Wrong. The buzz (and there is a buzz) is more around desired outcomes, the business process, what needs to be delivered and the approach  being used to deliver it and how it could be improved.  Of course technology is part of the conversation but it is very much a means rather than an end.

Know what’s flexible and what isn’t

Though the approach to individual projects within the digital team is very  flexible and responsive to the shape of the particular project in hand, this is in contrast to the framework that projects are delivered within which is very clearly defined, collectively owned and rigorously applied.  Team operating and design principles, tools and methodologies  have been  discussed and agreed and are visibly on display around the office.  This clarity acts as a daily touchstone for the team to ensure the key elements that will support  delivery  are kept front and centre and are not unwittingly diluted or bypassed. More importantly, this ability to help define the environment you operate within is an important group engagement mechanism and also serves as a cultural lever as it clearly states what is important to the team.

The quality of the engagement determines the quality of the output

This is not a principle unique to Digital but it certainly applies here.  Great things can be achieved with a shared clarity of purpose and  resolve between a supplier and a customer. If the engagement gets too lopsided then the quality of the of project/outcome can be significantly compromised or, in extreme cases, derailed before it has even really started.

You need to be prepared to draw lines… and then step across them

One thing that came across loud and clear in talking to Mathew’s  team was the willingness and need to facilitate the desired outcome even in less than ideal circumstances. Clear roles and responsibilities are obviously key to any endeavour  but so also is a willingness to step beyond boundaries in order to support each other and the goals of the group. Being prepared to step into the each other’s shoes helps give a shared perspective both of challenges and solutions.

All in all a very worthwhile and informative session and one I would wholeheartedly recommend to others who wish to “Think Digital” as well as “Do Digital”!

Work shadowing: a chance to understand, time to learn

By Liz Connick, Senior Information Officer, Buckinghamshire Family Information Service

Everybody’s talking Digital Transformation and here in Buckinghamshire County Council that may mean different things to different people. In order to gain experience and insight I spent a couple of days work shadowing Matthew Cain and his Team at Digital HQ so that I can learn and develop within my current role as Senior Information Officer for the Buckinghamshire Family Information Service.

Day One: As Head of Digital, Matthew is leading the Council transformation to be digital first, driving the day to day digital strategy and working across a wide variety of disciplines – social, content and technology. This involves engagement with colleagues across all levels which entails a regular plethora of meetings, several of which I attended with Matthew today. This really brought home to me the breadth of Matthew and his teams involvement in a wide variety of projects across the entire council and how as one organisation we have a complex spider’s web of systems, software and processes to navigate.

What became evident is that as Head of Digital you need a broad understanding of technicalities, the ability to focus colleagues on the customer experience or ‘customer journey’, a good understanding of what will work then the ability to translate, design and build. You also need great communication skills to be able to talk to people at all levels of the organisation who have different levels of digital literacy and expectations.

Day Two: Today, I spent some time with the Digital Team, Colin and Becky, Digital Content Officers and who both have 12 plus years’ experience with the Council. They talked me through their key projects they are working on, for example, Maintain My Street, Find My Child a School Place, Complaints and Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and Firmstep.-In the afternoon, I attended a workshop with representatives’ from User Zoom, a Customer and User Experience Research and Analytics Platform which the Digital Team will be using in the forthcoming year. I also had the opportunity to meet Sarah (Digital Content Officer) and Millie (Intern) and team Liz

After the end of two very interesting days with the digital team what do I understand about the words ‘Digital Transformation’?

I understand it to be the process for shifting Buckinghamshire County Council to new ways of working and thinking by the use of digital, social, mobile and emerging technologies. This involves the need for us all to think differently, adapt and change our service models and look at how we can increase the use of technology to improve the experience of our internal and external customers i.e. employees, customers, suppliers, partners and stakeholders.

What is the key learning point that I will take away with me after these two days with the Digital Team?

The key to creating service value is to focus on customer value. Truly understanding the needs and preferences of our customers, as well as their behaviour and attitudes ‘the customer journey’, is essential for service strategy.

Thank you to Matthew and his team. I still think that our Head of Digital is an off spring of Duncan Bannatyne! Though I didn’t share this information with him on my visit …
Duncan Ballantyne

Untangling a web of content

HQ Digital has an ambition (well, we have many ambitions), one of which is to redesign the Bucks CC website, starting with the top user needs.

This task will not be easy and it will take some time.  It requires careful planning and a lot of consideration.  After making a good start, we needed some help.

Where it began

Not long after I joined the Digital team at Bucks, I started looking at the website in its entirety.  Not only was I looking at the pages, the content and the structure, I looked into the analytics of the pages and typical user journeys.  It became clear that there were many areas which had room for improvement.

Not only is there a need to ensure the text and content on the pages is clear, it is also important that the look and feel of the web pages is meeting user needs.  This is when templates for web pages need to be carefully designed.  At the moment we have two templates for the whole website, which is not meeting requirements. We are therefore also in the process of several having templates designed, to meet the specific needs of a topic area or element of a page.

Tasks, not pages

Instead of picking areas at random to improve, as there are so many, we needed some way to sort content areas.  I established the tasks that a user was trying to achieve while looking at the website.

After looking at analytics from Google Analytics as well as SiteImprove, I was able to build up a picture of what the top tasks were for the website. I started by looking at the order of the top pages, and then grouped these into areas and tasks.  This required the use of a spreadsheet.   From approximately 250 webpages, I ended up with a stripped back list of 25 top tasks.

blog - Excel and GA

In order to work out a plan to redesign the top user needs on our website, we needed a little help.

Introducing… Sarah Richards

Sarah Richards

Sarah Richards

The HQ Digital Content Team gathered together on Monday with a purpose.  Matthew had invited Sarah Richards to spend the day with us.  Sarah previously product managed the GOV.UK style guide, and also led digital transformation at Citizens Advice.  To find out more about Sarah and read her blog visit

Sarah talked us through how best to approach this project.  We walked through the top 25 user tasks; starting with those we had deemed the least complex.  We considered whether or not a task would require a Discovery session, and how long we estimated a redesign on a section would take.

In the afternoon we went onto the more complex tasks.  These required more consideration, of what would need to be done differently in order to redesign these areas.

Our Plan


In a truly agile fashion, we were using sticky notes to document our tasks and findings.  Once we had each of the tasks on a sticky note, we put them down on paper, into a timeline.

The top row were small, bite sized areas which could be picked up at any possible time.

The second row were the big areas.  Often these would require a Discovery session, to find out more about user needs and service requirements.  These areas would take longer to do, and so had larger spaces between them.

The pink notes were items that we needed to go away and find out, or where we were relying on other tasks such as designs of new templates.

By the end of the day we had the beginnings of a six month plan in place.  The once seemingly mammoth task suddenly didn’t look quite so big.  It became achievable and it was doable.

What’s next?

We are going to be pretty busy for the next six months, making the website better.    We will be in touch with the services who will be involved with the first stages of this plan.

If you’d like to support us, we are looking for users to help us test the website.  You can sign up to test our digital services online.

We are committed to continual improvement of our website and intranet.  If you find any page that requires updating or improving, please click the ‘Is there anything wrong with this page?’ link at the end of the web page.

If you’d like to know more about what we’re up to, please do get in touch with the HQ Digital team,


Bucks Digital visit GDS

Recently, Becki and Sarah of the Digital Team at Bucks CC, were lucky enough to be welcomed for a day to experience Government Digital Service (GDS).

Martha Lane Fox

Martha Lane Fox

We have already been well aware of the great work that GDS have been doing over the years, however we were keen to learn more, and experience the way in which GDS works.

Once inside we were welcomed by John Turnbull, Senior Content Designer at GOV.UK

We have been following the work that GDS have been doing in central government, keeping up to date with the GDS Blog, which has been a source of great inspiration.

We have adopted the GDS approach to the way we work at Bucks CC; working in an agile way, iteratively and keeping user needs at the heart of everything we do

User Needs

It was very clear from everyone we spoke to that the user need is at the heart of everything they do. They still come across the trials and tribulations of what the services feel should be on the site but they take the time to get real feedback from real users about what they want. To GDS it’s not just about figures, how many times a form has been completed since being improved, but actually hearing from users where the changes made really had a positive effect, fixed an issue, gave some clarity and was appreciated.

The use of visuals is key, numbers on a page are great but seeing a user in a video provide direct feedback makes it much more real. Their answers are instant, closer to a real situation than giving time to write a written formulated response where their judgement may change while writing.

Sessions with colleagues are run about not just what the team did, the problems they had and the way they overcame these, but sessions just about the user, how they felt and what issues they had. Another way to really bring home what it is we’re really trying to do.

Improvement vs BAU

We were curious how GDS managed their responsibilities and time with achieving both business as usual (BAU) demands, compared with making continual improvements.

John Turnbull let us know near the start of the day that they aimed to spend 80% of time on BAU, and 20% on improvements to GOV.UK.

As we also know at Bucks, this is not always possible, but we thought it was good to set such a target.  This would help to keep focus.  In such a fast paced environment, teams  work quickly, moving constantly in an agile way.

Lucy, Senior Content Designer at GDS, gave us a great example of what happened when there was a need to focus on a specific area.  A team would get together within GDS to work solely on the improvement of an area.  Their aim for a period of time would be to Digitally Transform an area.  The GDS Blog, Mapping the border as users see it explains this particular example in more detail.


The team at GDS have regular stand up meetings, where they run through briefly their aims for the day or upcoming week, led by a Delivery Manager, whose role is to keep things moving.  They use Trello to plan and view their sprints.  The aim is to progress projects from the left to the right of the board, swiftly.  Blockers can be identified and it is then the Team Leader’s role to help to unblock any projects which are ‘blocked’.

They use a true Agile methodology, with sticky Post-Its covering most walls and boards.  The GDS office space is colourful, constantly moving and evolving.

GDS wall

GDS Office Space

2i and Fact Check

The GDS approach to dealing with content requests is much more rigorous than ours at Bucks.

There are some similarities with ourselves, such as that content requests can come in via members of the public, or a contact within a department.

There are however many differences.  For example, before any changes are made to GOV.UK, there is a process to go through, to not only ensure content is clear, correct, accurate and user focused.  It is also reviewed by another content designer, which GDS call 2i, or second pair of eyes. The next step is to have the content checked for its factual accuracy with a contact in service.   This ensures that after the content has been rewritten that the meaning of the wording has not been changed. – content in 7 steps

  1. user needs identified through data
  2. content designer writes draft
  3. review by another designer (“second pair of eyes”)
  4. factcheck
  5. published
  6. user data reviewed
  7. content iterated

Content Design

The teams at GDS do not have Content Officers, as Bucks CC does, but rather they have teams which include Content Designers.   The art of Content Design  is an area that GDS have done a vast amount of research on.

Simpler, clearer, faster

“Applying all of these content design principles mean we do the hard work for the user. But the reward is a site that is simpler, clearer and faster for both government and citizens.”
GDS What is content design?


This also reflected the challenges we face at Bucks CC, despite being keen to make continual improvements to the website, we often find that BAU can take over, and can prevent us from doing so on some days.

We have #BetterEveryDay where we aim to make at least one thing on the website better, every day.  Whether this is from a content request, or is an area that we discover and would like to improve, for the benefit of our users.



GDS message to Bucks

At the end of the day, we had a wrap up where we were told “You’re doing all the right things” which was not only reassuring, but gave us confidence that the methods we have adopted at Bucks CC means we are taking the right approach, in the right direction.