Making it easy for people to find local services

December 9, 2015 by No Comments | Category Digital Public Services,

This is a post by Reece Cargan, one of our content designers.

Over the past 12 months, I’ve seen lots of changes when it comes to content on – in terms of its appearance and the way we approach content creation. This is due to a number of factors:

  • we work in an agile environment
  • the technical evolution of our publishing platform dictates a content change
  • UX input, usability audits and user feedback help us improve content

We’re constantly evolving our offering in an attempt to ensure user needs are met, and hopefully exceeded.

Meeting the local needs of our users

One of the biggest changes has been the way we meet the needs of users who are looking for local services, like council tax or bin collections. As our colleagues at GDS have already established, people shouldn’t need to understand the structure of government to be able to access services.

So, how do we create content that’s appropriate for Scotland as a whole, yet manages the expectations of our visitors looking for services from local authorities?

What your local council does
Scotland’s 32 local councils are responsible for a range of public services. Their powers include:

  • mandatory powers – such providing schooling for 5 to 16-year-olds, fire services and social work services
  • permissive powers – such as economic development and recreation services
  • regulatory powers – such as trading standards, environmental health and licences for taxis and pubs

First off, we ditched the term ‘local authorities’ in favour of ‘local councils’. This is the term people use and is in keeping with our manifesto of using plain English.

Then, we tried to not re-invent the wheel. GOV.UK uses a ‘postcode’ search to facilitate journeys to council websites. Behind this is a large database of links for each service at all the council websites in England and Wales.

Our regional drop-down

We quickly realised this approach wasn’t quite right for Scotland. Geographically we’re much smaller and our 32 local councils could be easily accessed via a simple drop-down menu.

We made sure our content designers have flexibility when using these drop-downs, including being able to:

  • edit the title text
  • place the drop-down wherever we want to on a page

This means users can read information on council tax, bin collections or planning permission on single pages, with deep links to their local council contained within the content. This enables us to set the national context while also linking to local government variations and devolved content within one page (and with one click).

Flexibility is important, as we need to be able to let people know when a service isn’t available in their area. For example:

  • landlocked council areas won’t have coastguard services
  • Scottish Borders Council doesn’t provide council housing
  • some councils don’t pick up garden waste

Working with local councils

As is a citizen-led site, we aim to work closely and in partnership with public sector organisations to put users at the forefront of service delivery and design.

To help us prioritise our backlog and make sense of the landscape, we asked for help from 3 local councils – North Lanarkshire, Midlothian and Glasgow City. They provided us with web analytics and placed a survey on their sites, asking people why they visited and if they found what they were looking for. From this master list, we segregated the needs into 11 categories – mirroring the Scottish Navigation List to enable us to understand the services handled by local councils.

We interrogated the analytics and survey results to understand why users visited the sites. An area with high traffic for local council users was ‘rubbish and recycling’, so early in our evolution we ran a pilot on how we would represent this information on

Users are presented with a simple drop-down list of local councils…

The link takes users directly to the appropriate page on the local council website

Future iterations

As we had already established that users don’t know (or need to know) who provides a service, we design task based content and deliver a ‘managed journey’ to the appropriate service provider based on a region.

Next steps

We plan to use this format in other contexts, like NHS boards, police stations, and our work with Marine Scotland that may see us linking to their Fishery Offices across Scotland. We are working on expanding the drop-down format to allow us to include contact information for organisations. We are also looking to add in functionality to visualise the areas on a map (especially important where only certain areas of Scotland are covered, or where another organisation may be listed as well as local councils).

We’ll be sharing updates on this, and much more on social, so follow the team via @mygovscot on Twitter for more updates. Want to comment? Get in touch below!



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