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.

Helping Planning with their online payments

The Planning team had a new service going live within a tight deadline. They were trying to make it easier for customers to make payments. This might even reduce their workload. Planning was already up against it in terms of work and really didn’t need any extra admin.

The ICT team were already really overstretched, and the Digital First programme developers were tied up on another similar project. So we decided to build the form alongside another, which had similar requirements and which already had development time allocated.

What went right

This was a good example of identifying and developing a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) quickly, working closely with a service.

Planning also praised our agile way of reacting and willingness to help. This will give our digital development team a good reputation and, I hope, open doors with services across the organisation.

On the actual development side, we’ve developed a new way of paying that keeps customers within an online application form. This is great because going outside the form results in a pretty mediocre experience. The new way is slick, easy to use and has been adopted with great delight by the Registrar team. We hope now that other services will want to use it.

Learning from what went wrong

One thing we learnt the hard way is we that we have to hold our ground and insist on discovery work, even facing high pressure deadlines.

By doing the discovery work it’s likely we would have avoided the outcome when Planning’s form went live.

At the start, we all thought fast payment would help Planning and would be something all customers would want. Right?

Well, that’s not how it happened.

Once we put it live, we only had one payment via the form.


This particular group of customers are normally businesses paying very large sums. They don’t want to do this by card. Card charges are too high on large amounts.

This was not anticipated before. The development team assumed that easy online payment would be simplest and quickest for everyone.

Most customers still want to pay by invoice.

So Planning didn’t avoid the extra admin either.

Putting user needs first

The Planning team were kind to us with their feedback. They said: “Your team did your bit brilliantly, but I guess it is hard to ignore the most used avenues of payment.”

We don’t think we did do that brilliantly. We built the form brilliantly, but there’s no point in building something brilliant if customers don’t want to use it.

No matter the time pressure, we should have asked the customer! User needs come first, and you need to know those needs to put them first. We’ve got to be expert at guiding staff on the importance of this.

First thing, before anything else, is to always ask the user!

We have the feedback from customers now and we know that they would use BACS in the form if available. Hopefully we can add this when we upgrade our payment system in the future. After more discovery work, that is.

This is a tough lesson learned, but one we can use as an example. When pressure from managers to deliver is high, we can use this example to show that good discovery will save time and money in the long run.

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.