Harlow Council is a government authority committed to serving the local residents and businesses of Harlow, a town and government district in Essex, England. Harlow Council is responsible for delivering public services to a population of more than 80,000 constituents. Some of their main duties include recycling, rubbish collection, Council tax collections, land planning permits and housing applications. The mission of the Council is to be a trusted authority and source of information to the community, provide essential services to citizens and advocate for the town of Harlow as a positive place for people to live and enjoy themselves.
Harlow Council’s website serves as a tool for residents to complete essential services, such as schedule waste collection and acquire legal documentation, as well as a source of information about public life and community events. Unlike in industries like media or retail where people often spend more time discovering and exploring different content, good customer experience in the public sector means offering immediate solutions. Constituents do not want to search through multiple web pages or wait on hold to speak to a Council representative.
The Council’s prior website had several accessibility issues and a dated, confusing design that added unneeded complexity to the visitor experience. This placed an additional burden on non-digital channels as people sought help via phone calls or in-office appointments. Harlow Council wanted to create seamless digital experiences across web and mobile to bring citizens more convenient, faster services and reduce the requests on their non-digital channels.
When embarking on a site redesign and rebuild, the Harlow web team wanted to create a digital experience that put the constituent at the center. The previous Harlow Council website, built on Drupal 7 in 2012, did not reflect the needs of the organization’s key users. Much of the site content was written and designed from the perspective of the council members rather than the residents themselves, making it difficult for the site’s users to understand. In their efforts to offer a better user experience, the Council wanted to improve the website’s accessibility features to comply with the WCAG 2.1 AA criteria, such as screen-reader compatibility, easy-to-read text, optimal color contrast levels and less crowded page layout and content displays.
Harlow Council worked with digital agency and Acquia partner Zoocha, who recommended Drupal 8 and Acquia Cloud as the best solution to replatform and redesign their new website. Drupal 8’s flexible, open source architecture allowed the Council to revamp their entire site experience and better manage content and improve responsiveness across all device types. Drupal 8 was also an attractive choice for its commitment to web accessibility in core. Replatforming on Drupal 8 meant the Council met the required WCAG 2.1 AA specifications out-of-the-box, saving the organization the time and resources of testing and upgrading these capabilities.
Harlow Council’s website migration project began in March 2019 and the new site was completed and launched in December 2019. Following the effort, the Council web team has seen improvements in responsiveness, accessibility and overall site visits.
Harlow Council experienced a 30% increase in overall site visits in February 2020 compared to February 2019. The flexible and seamless interface on the redesigned website made it simpler for users to locate relevant content. After the relaunch, the overall use of Harlow Council’s online channels to book key services, request assistance and report issues all increased since February 2019:
- Booking bulk waste collection online increased by 5%
- Reporting a missed bin increased by 9%
- Requesting a new bin by 6%
Overall, Harlow anticipates long-term gains in the number of people turning to their online channels at the start of user journey. This helps the organization cut down on resources and dedicate more of their limited staff’s time to serving customers who may not have the option of digital communication.