Essex County Council is transforming the way its residents engage with its digital services. Their first step in achieving this vision was to migrate to a new content management system (CMS).
Following the Local Digital Declaration, Essex County Council replatformed to Contentful in 2019. Their choice of a modern, decoupled CMS was strongly influenced by great work that Stockport MBC had undertaken, and it worked well at first.
But over time it proved hard for internal teams to maintain. Although the content management system worked well, the bespoke nature of the front end made it hard for them to iterate and improve.
At the same time, Brighton and Hove and Croydon councils had been on a similar journey, creating what would become LocalGov Drupal. It has now grown to 37 participating councils. As open-source software, LocalGov Drupal (LGD) helps councils collaboratively solve problems by sharing solutions, coding and designs.
So in 2022, Essex Council made the strategic decision to consolidate their various technologies and move to the LocalGov Drupal ecosystem. And they asked us to help with the migration and build.
We created two instances of LocalGov Drupal, one for their public site and one for their intranet. The new public website was launched in June 2023.
The new website supported internal teams by providing:
- a flexible, intuitive editing interface
- access to features developed by other councils
- a common approach to content management across different sites
- wide array of add-ons from the Drupal community
- simple login, using existing Essex County Council accounts
The council’s residents benefitted from:
- a fully accessible, WCAG 2.1 AA compliant website
- an improved user experience and more joined up services
- a fast, reliable website
Our use of Azure cloud-native technologies and LGD’s efficient code helps to minimise the website’s carbon emissions, which benefits the wider environment, too.
Working as one team
We worked as one team, with our Delivery Manager, Business Analyst, User Researcher and Drupal developers working closely with content specialists at Essex.
We worked alongside their internal stakeholders to create robust requirements and a prioritised backlog. We delivered the programme using Agile principles which included daily stand ups, sprint planning and sprint reviews.
Their internal service transformation team were already well aware of the benefits of LocalGov Drupal. So we got to work quickly, setting up the new environment and tailoring it to their needs.
Migrating to LocalGov Drupal
Essex Council had already audited its content, but we needed to decide how best to migrate the thousands of items in Contentful. We also had new brand guidelines to follow, and needed to ensure that all of our work and every line of code had accessibility at its heart.
We defined an automated migration pathway, using new custom code and the power of Drupal’s migrations system. We used data from the Contentful export, combined with spidering the current website to gain additional data.
This meant we could run the migration multiple times, finding and fixing any issues long before the live deployment. Along the way, the tools we wrote helped other projects the service transformation team were running.
Meeting organisational security and assurance needs
Alongside the functional requirements, Essex Council also had non-functional requirements and assurance needs to account for. For example, there was a strong desire to make sure that accounts were integrated with joiners and leavers processes, and enforced multi-factor authentication.
We used Azure Active Directory B2C to deliver and manage their authentication system. This combination allowed us to support both Essex and Nomensa support staff being able to access the site securely, limited to the correct privilege levels.
We also customised workflows and roles within LocalGov Drupal for a more efficient experience. These are changes to the standard features, so we worked with teams to understand how they manage content and how we could ensure proper content ownership.
Collaboration made easy
One of the main benefits of LocalGov Drupal is the collaborative community behind it. Developers, content designers and digital managers from across UK local government all share ideas, items and features. Being part of this community leads to improved problem solving and efficiencies across the local gov landscape.
We worked in the open, publishing our code on GitHub and demoing it at regular show and tells. We shared the work with the LocalGov Drupal community, ensuring that our efforts benefitted not only Essex but also other councils.
Our Drupal team consists of front-end and back-end specialists who are already active contributors and organisers within the Drupal community. And we’re proud to say that we’re now contributing to LocalGov Drupal, too. On top of this, we’ve created four new pieces of open-source software for other councils to use based on Essex’s requirements.
What’s next for Essex County Council?
We’re still working closely with Essex Council to deliver development enhancements, including setting up a live service and hosting it. We’ve also been providing content, design and user research support to extend their design standards. In particular, we’ve been helping them to enhance the flexibility of their digital publishing through additional design capabilities.
From births and deaths to paying for parking fines, council services touch every part of our lives. That’s why it’s so exciting to see Essex County Council work tirelessly to ensure its services feel personal, local and representative of its community.
Can we help you?
If you’d like to learn more about the work we’ve been doing with local government Drupal websites, or if you’d like technical support while migrating to LocalGov Drupal, get in touch. Our team will be happy to help.