Local authorities like Darlington Borough Council are focussed on delivering high quality services to local residents, and ensuring easy access to services. As pressures increase to reduce service delivery costs, councils are looking for more efficient ways of allowing people to access information and services which traditionally would have required a phone call or visit to a council location. Balancing these priorities is a big challenge.
Darlington Borough Council has consistently revised its web presence to support their service delivery, and recently identified a need for a personalised portal for citizens, to pull together the information that people most commonly look for.
We helped the Council realise this concept, building on an earlier 'eServices' facility, eventually producing a new design for a service named 'MyDarlington+'. The portal delivered information customised to individual residents, including information about local services and events. There was also a need to display secure information on council tax and housing rents details, so that residents could check their balance online. The aim was to combine all of these services, giving residents a central hub to visit, and to therefore reduce the number of phone calls to the Council's customer services department. Approaching this problem required identification of what services would best deliver value for the Council, whilst tackling the technical challenges of integrating with a range of back office systems to provide the required information.
We collaborated with council employees to help define a design for the new MyDarlington+ portal, which pulled together all of the key pieces of information.
Mapping is Key
Central to many services is the idea of location - where the resident lives should effect the information available to them. This was integrated into the secure registration process, so that once a resident is logged in, key services are displayed for their local area. Visitors can even preview many features without the need to log in, another tactic to encourage take up of the service.
Another key element of the solution is combining data from many sources securely in one location. This meant integrating geographic data for local mapping, refuse and recycling collection data and even council tax records. Designing a system which could present with these pieces of information in a secure manner was key to project success.
Amongst other things the finished MyDarlington+ portal allows residents to:
- See their local ward information and who their councillors are.
- See a map of local services including schools, car parks and libraries, customised with their current location.
- Find information on the next refuse and recycling collection dates for their property.
- View their council tax and housing rent balances online.
- Subscribe to updates on specific categories of events, like Fitness and Sports or Markets and Shopping.
- Bookmark site pages and receive updates when their contents is updated.
Whilst developing the concept was done collaboratively, so too was the implementation of the completed design. In order to reduce reliance on third parties, reducing overall cost, the Council has formed its own web team to help deliver on their overall strategy. This is becoming a more common story, as organisations seek to balance their costs against the efficiencies of brining in specialist expertise where required. We are used to working in conjunction with other teams, and a joint delivery posed no obstacle for us. Using collaborative tools for sharing information and source code along with a focus on working as a single team allowed everyone to play to their strengths. The result; the MyDarlington+ concept delivered at a lower cost, with knowledge transferred to the internal team, allowing them to maintain and customise the system in future, staying responsive to the needs of the Council.
We are really happy with the new MyDarlington+Neil Bowerbank Engagement Manager