Why we’ve renamed our blog

We’ve changed the name of our digital blog to “Digital First | Brighton & Hove City Council”

At a recent event I was talking about how the council is improving digital services for users. People were keen to read our blog and find out about the work we’re doing. However, as they went on their smart phones to have a look at the blog it became obvious that our blog was difficult to find.

It was time to take some of our own advice.

Using everyday language

It’s important that we use everyday language.

The previous name of our blog “BHCCDIGITAL – developing customer focused digital services” didn’t refer to the council in the way that most of our users do.

This meant that we were getting very few referrals from Google search.

It’s important that when we create content we –

  • use everyday language
  • design with data
  • consider our users’ point of view

And leading by example is vital too.

First contact – designing a new referral form for adult social care

Navigating the maze of care and support services is not easy.

Although there are many great services in Brighton & Hove, services’ eligibility criteria and how or where to access services are not clear to our residents, or sometimes even professionals.

We already provide an online directory of services, MyLife Brighton & Hove and we’re recruiting volunteer Community Navigators with our partners Impetus.

I became involved through the council’s digital first programme, called Customer First in a Digital Age (CFDA). As members of the CFDA development team met with adult social care, we discovered that there was an online form for referrals. Yet it was underused, and didn’t capture all of the information needed by the team. Many referrals are being sent by email, missing vital information that the team need to respond.


I spent two days shadowing the adult social care contact centre (Access Point) team, listening to customers and speaking to social workers and care managers.

It didn’t feel like enough time but I learned a lot.

Identifying opportunities

As I listened to calls and discussed the current processes in place, some common themes emerged.

  • Many people calling or emailing the adult social care team needed to access a service provided by the NHS or another team in the council.
  • Referrals and information came through more slowly from professionals than direct contact with the person themselves.
  • And, as we’d initially been told, often emails that the team received contained a lot of information, but missed out important details that were needed to take action.

This all added up to it taking longer for people to get the help that they needed.

It was clear that as well as gathering the information that the team needed, a new online process could also help provide information and signposting to users.

Designing a new way forward

I started by writing out the information we needed to collect with some sticky notes.

As I created an initial order (flow) for the process, I highlighted opportunities to signpost people to services that were not provided by adult social care as early as possible in the process. Using sticky notes enabled me to move stuff around more fluidly than spending time designing a flow chart.asc-referral-postit-flow-before-build-web

However, if you haven’t gathered already, it was really complex. Following the advice of a colleague in our development team, working with an information analyst I started to focus on just one customer journey, for a referrer. This journey was subsequently split into two as we found two distinct groups with different user needs, ‘friends and family’ and ‘professionals’, before we moved on to self referrals. There are currently nine distinct user journeys in the new online tool.

Once an initial process was developed, I worked on the language and the questions being asked, using what I had learned listening to the contact centre as the foundation for the content and working alongside an adult social care manager. We also required legal sign off for the content to ensure the process complied with the Care Act, a new piece of legislation about how people can access services.

As well as the new content for the form, we’ve created notification emails that highlight the information that the access point team needs, and carefully reworded the acknowledgement given to people who email the access point team or submit a form to ensure there’s clear information about what happens next.


Take up for this new referral form is still very low, though we’ve not promoted it, taking a soft launch approach. I feel that channel shift from email is a particularly difficult challenge.

It’s hard to know how users are interacting with the form, and there seems to be quite a high number of people who start using the form but don’t reach the end of the form and submit. This could be because of issues with the usability of the form, or because it’s simply doing its job and diverting people away to other services. We also have lots of interested colleagues trying it out.

One piece of data that I’m monitoring is which links to further information people on the form are clicking through to. However, aside from this link tracking, it’s difficult to monitor the performance of the form. We don’t have analytics tools that can help us here. The best insight will be from usability testing.

Moving forward

We will need to perform usability testing on the form to best understand how well this new content is meeting customer needs. This is scheduled to happen when a new self assessment tool goes live, as the user journey for self assessment will be funneled through the referral form. It’s really important that we get it right.

It may be that some of the information is removed from the form, and we use other patterns on our beta site, such as a “guide” to provide the information or we change the styling or the layout. There’s a difficult balance between providing useful additional information and getting in the way of our users.

I am looking at how we include information for carers on the form. There is an opportunity to sign post friends and family who are making a referral to get support for themselves as carers, as well as allow professionals to make combined referrals for someone with care and support needs and their existing carer.

Another opportunity is to work more closely with our partners and services that currently require separate referrals. For example we’re currently signposting professionals to the NHS falls service, where they need to fill out another referral form. Could we incorporate these questions into the council’s referral and provide more of a “one stop shop”?

Tell us what you think

I’m really interested in gaining more feedback about the referral tool. If you are a health or social care professional, or you’ve used our new Adult Social Care referral form for yourself or a friend or relative, I’m keen to have your thoughts. Have you tried out the form or would you use it in the future? Please leave your feedback and comments below.

Usability testing – how we run our sessions

We need to ensure that our digital services are accessible and easy to use.

We do usability testing to find out how people use the digital services we design and build. We record how people use our website and forms as they attempt to complete a set task and we ask for their feedback. This helps us understand how people use things in ‘real life’ and if this matches our expectations and designs. We take the feedback from usability testing and use it to improve the user experience (UX) as we build.

I wanted to share some things I learned from our most recent usability testing sessions.

a screenshot of a display showing council tax account information
A work in progress – our “view your Council Tax account” design

Alex and I carried out some usability testing on a new online service that will enable people to get information about their Council Tax account online.

I was really happy and felt the sessions went well. We met some people, ran through some scenarios and learnt some very useful stuff about how people were navigating through the task.

At the end of the day I wrote up some brief notes on how the sessions went and the things that I wanted to take forward to use in the next usability testing session. I smiled as I typed them up. Life was good. It was a beautiful spring afternoon. The sun shone. I ate lunch in the park.

However, and there’s no easy way to break this, the next day back in the office I was devastated to find that we lost all our audio for our testing sessions (in fact it never recorded). This was despite checking all our equipment and set-up before each session. (Cue very sad faces, and disbelief at how this could possibly happen) Pausing the software before each participant began was the cause of the problem).

Tips for running usability testing

Check your recordings after each participant

The lesson here isn’t to ‘not pause software’. It’s that if we had checked the quality of the previous session, before we started the next one, we would have spotted the error straight away, and been a lot less sad.

If you carry out usability testing, and are looking to learn from this blog, then the one thing I would like you to take away is to check your recordings. Check them after each participant and catch your unexpected equipment/software failures before they ruin your week.

You may find that you need to make smaller improvements, like adjustments to lighting or microphones.

We were able to salvage the situation with our notes, and the screen recordings without audio were more enlightening than I thought they would be.

Finally, here are the four other things that I felt were key for helping a day of usability testing run smoothly.


We use a laptop (MacBook Pro) for our usability testing as that’s where our screen recording software is installed.

We asked about internet use when recruiting participants for our testing, but we didn’t ask people about experience of different devices.

However, some of our participants had never used a mac before and appeared a little daunted. We added a simple question to our script, asking “do you usually use a Mac or a PC?”. Asking this question at the start of the session enabled us to provide reassurance to our participants that they didn’t need to know anything about Macs to complete their task.

Are you sitting comfortably?

Explicitly inviting participants to “settle in” made a real difference. Things to consider here are the position of the mouse and the keyboard. I positioned the mouse below the centre of the keyboard. This prompted participants to move it to where they needed it to be. I also encouraged people to adopt a good posture (mostly pulling the chair up closer to the table). Bonus for us, getting closer to the screen captured a better recording on the laptop’s web cam. (If we had an external webcam we could adjust its position)

Encouraging “thinking out loud”

At the start of each session we ask our participants to describe what they are thinking, doing and looking at as they go through the task, however sometimes this doesn’t happen.

Reminding participants, as they started the task, made a big difference to the amount of verbalisation. It’s really helpful to us when participants verbalise what they are doing and thinking as they complete the task. It provides an additional layer of feedback and creates a powerful impact when we share user testing sessions with our team. Of course verbalising is only useful if you capture the audio (*weeps*).

“Why am I here?” Reiterating the goal

We found that reminding participants during the session of the goal / task that we’d set was really valuable. Losing track of the goal could be a sign of high cognitive load, or that the process design is not supporting the task as it should, we are dealing with an artificial scenario in an artificial situation.

Onwards and upwards to the next session.