Essex County Council (ECC) required a new website for their Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) service, co-designed and built with user needs at the core on LocalGov Drupal (LGD).
Children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND), their parents, families, and professionals within Essex were not easily able to access the information required to efficiently advise and support young people who have SEND.
To overcome this and help contribute to the Council’s Corporate Objectives to achieve positive social, economic and environmental impacts on the community and wider environment in Essex, we promised to build an intuitive, high-quality, accessible Local Offer website and directory service, built with user research at the centre. The new Local Offer has enabled residents and professionals in Essex to easily self-serve and access the information about special educational needs and disabilities they require, reducing the reliance on contacting the council for additional support.
In partnership with Annertech, we worked with the ECC team to research, design and develop their new SEND website using LocalGov Drupal (LGD). Created by councils, for councils – LGD is a publishing platform that incorporates the functionalities that councils specifically need for their platforms. This was the first time LGD was used to create a SEND Local Offer website, and our aim was to work as a blended team to ensure increased adoption and transformation of the website from being OFSTED rated ‘Adequate’ to leading the way with a best in class service that others can learn from. Our work is evidence based, fully WCAG 2.1AA compliant and inline with GDS standards.
The research and data available to us was critical, and learning from young people, families, carers and professionals to develop this service was the priority to solve the problem for all demographics, not just some.
Accessibility was prioritised at every stage of the project from research to launch. We had a persona that represented this audience in every thought process when researching, designing, building and launching – resulting in a fully accessible website.
The service we developed ensured interoperability. Allowing SEND services to link to the wider council services and vice versa.
Reduction of reliance on professionals, service desks and emails due to the user journeys and signposting that guides users effectively and efficiently.
Over 30 different users engaged in a card sort activity to support the new information architecture ( IA).
75+ end users engaged as part of guerilla testing.
Over 300 directory entries cleansed and validated for the new website.
An entirely new IA developed based on key user journeys.
Creation of ongoing interest group for the SEND team.
Project researched, designed and launched in just 8 months.
Engaged with 30+ stakeholders to ensure their feedback was considered.
The existing website had a complex layout and IA, which needed to be completely redesigned based on user needs.
LGD directories were not originally configured with SEND in mind. The existing functionality required development and testing to successfully house a SEND directory.
SEND is a complex area with a lot of legislation, further complicated by a large geographic area within Essex and varying offerings – based on where the user lives within the county.
There were numerous end users to consider, with a variety of requirements for the website, depending on where they are in their SEND journey.
We were required to help ECC’s Local Offer meet the SEND families’ needs, ensuring it has the right information, it’s not difficult to find, and fully understand the information.
To ensure the website platform met the GDS standards, the project was split into 3 phases; Discovery and strategy, Design and implementation and finally Maintain and evolve
Invuse adopts an agile approach to first conduct a discovery/analysis phase that provides us with the research and data to inform decision making when planning, designing, developing and testing an alpha/beta/live version of the new website.
Together, we defined a success criteria for each rollout, and iteratively designed, developed and tested as part of our sprint cycles until we met these success criterias.
We guaranteed to be open and transparent and publish our research notes and code to keep stakeholders and, more importantly, the users of the SEND website informed and part of our journey.
To support the research and development of the new SEND website, a member of our team joined the Essex Service Design Team . This ensured that user needs were identified, and the new website was built based on research.
Working as one collaborative team, we took a phased approach to identify needs, test and iterate based on end user and stakeholder feedback throughout.
Once we were into the build phase of the work, user engagement activities including guerilla and scenario based testing, took place to ensure that user needs were being met, and to support ongoing iterative development for functionality, design and content.
Extensive work took place to ensure the directory, which forms the centerpiece of the local offer, provided enough information for users.
Understanding the complexities of the SEND landscape was key here. Often the answers were not simple and this needed to be accommodated within the new service, whilst also providing a consistent end user experience.
Prior to launch, all supplier data on the local offer was validated through a newly developed process which allowed for suppliers to either mark their entry as correct or submit an update for review.
Invuse don’t stop once the final website launches. We are committed to working with ECC to continuously evolve their website in response to the needs and challenges of the council and their end users. By meeting regularly and having access to our specialists we’ll work together on any custom projects and ongoing research support that ECC wants to introduce for their site and the wider LGD team. Including:
A fully hosted website with 99.5% availability guarantees on a proven infrastructure designed to support Drupal and Local Government service.
8 hours of consultancy each month.
Access to a dedicated account manager to support daily needs and contributions to the LGD community.
Automated security updates applied seamlessly.
Minor upgrades – for example, updating from Drupal 9.5.x to Drupal 9.6.x.
Major upgrades – for example, Drupal 9 to Drupal 10.
Implementation of a Continuous Improvement Plan with ongoing research support from our team on a quarterly basis.
Throughout the project a number of user research and testing methodologies were used to ensure that user requirements were identified and the new website was built based on end user needs, optimising the user experience across the new Essex Local Offer.
An end user survey, to help validate and build on some of the work that took place in the initial discovery, create a baseline and gather further insight from end users.
Focus groups and interviews with end users, stakeholders and professionals
Attending SEND events across Essex to engage with our audience, including those who were not already engaged with the SEND Local Offer, and carry out guerilla testing of our designs and prototypes.
Online and in person card sort activity, to validate our IA, and identify any challenges content titles within content. In person workshop, partnering with the charity Kids, to gather feedback and requirements from children and young people with SEND.
Moderated and unmoderated scenario testing with end users to refine the structure of the websites, and ensure key user journeys were easy to navigate.
One of the reasons that ECC chose to work with Invuse was our commitment to becoming one team. Our consultants understand the importance of knowledge sharing and fitting into the culture. We recommended daily stand ups with each workstream leads reporting back to the team, regular face to face workshops where possible, and show and tell workshops at the end of each sprint.
As we worked together as a team, the collaboration between Invuse, ECC and Annertech meant that any challenges that were faced throughout the project were resolved quickly and efficiently. The site successfully went live in November 2022. We are excited to continue working with Essex on the development of their new website, and continue to work to identify user needs and requirements for the Local offer.
The people of Essex, their businesses, their partners, their communities and the local organisations within them are at the heart of everything they do. Their role is to engage with all these audiences, communicating, informing, listening and inspiring, and helping to bring about positive change.
LocalGov Drupal (LGD) is a collaboration of councils and suppliers, working together to design and develop an accessible, open source (Drupal) website platform. We work with councils to help them prepare and migrate their website to LGD, connecting their corporate priorities and goals with the voice of their end users.
Founded in 2008, Annertech has grown to become the most innovative open-source digital agency in Ireland. Widely considered to be Drupal experts and serial contributors to the core Drupal platform, Invuse’s partnership with Annertech unites the technical, analytical and experiential attributes to make your new website the best it can be for all your users.