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Case Study

Cumbria: An inexpensive experiment by a council with no prior Drupal experience

Cumbria County Council’s digital team is having great successes in service design with its Liberty Create low code platform, recently winning Gold at the iESE awards.

The council’s main website at cumbria.gov.uk has had less attention. It is powered by a 15 year old version of SDL Tridion, and the team have long wished to replace it. Technical support is reliant on a single team member, the design and information architecture needs to be refreshed, and it fails on accessibility.

The digital team also wants to invest in content design, rather than simply publishing everything that comes their way. The existing site doesn't have very much scope for publishing content with user needs in mind. Pages are often dense walls of text that are hard to follow, and many citizens pick up the phone instead.

Why Cumbria chose LocalGov Drupal

The digital team, led by Kate Hurr, has stayed in touch with LocalGov Drupal since early in Discovery. They were interested in how Government Digital Service style principles and patterns were being tested with local councils, and have always been keen to try the result. They were also impressed with the collaborative element of the project and the opportunity to work with and learn from other authorities.

As with many councils, Cumbria doesn't have an enormous digital budget or team. They have no Drupal development skills in-house. Funding is granted on a project by project basis, usually requiring a business case for each.

Kate saw an opportunity as LocalGov Drupal moved into Beta. She proposed a low cost demo (approx £35,000) to rebuild a single section of the Cumbria site, collecting impact data for future phases of work.

As well as gathering data, the council saw the Alpha as an opportunity to learn new skills and approaches. For example: How to build in Drupal, and what's needed to run a content design led operation. They also host everything on the premises, so this allowed them to explore cloud based approaches too.

Finally, Cumbria put itself forward as a lead council for the DLUHC funded LocalGov Drupal Beta project. So it made sense that they try the platform for the main council website.

Cumbria's approach

Cumbria's Alpha project ran over 4 months from May to September 2021 and the budget was spent as follows:

  • £8,250 (15 days) for an interaction designer to specify how the Cumbria brand should be extended for the web and implemented on the site
  • £12,000 (28 days) for a developer to advise on cloud hosting, and set up LocalGov Drupal. They also followed the interaction designer's instructions to create a Cumbria child theme on top of the LocalGov Drupal base theme
  • £14,400 (36 days) for a content designer to audit a section of the existing site, and work with service colleagues to understand user needs. They then completely rewrote the chosen section from scratch

The three team members above were all freelancers, and procured via Cumbria Council’s low value route (sub £50,000) which requires two quotes for each lot.

Product, delivery and analytics work was largely done by the in-house team. A user researcher wasn't hired for this phase, but will be if the project continues.

Picking the right content section to start with was important. The team didn't have a lot of time to deliver the work, so the service had to be open to new content design approaches. The team also wanted to fully utilise the full range of content formats LocalGov Drupal provides.

Cumbria settled on Births, deaths, marriages and ceremonies and you can see the Alpha in action here.

Initially the project team also wanted to rework a small transaction from end to end, using Drupal and Liberty Create together. Constraints with legacy technologies and the lack of time meant this was not possible.

How LocalGov Drupal supported the project

It’s unlikely an Alpha project would have got off the ground, been delivered in time or to the same quality had LocalGov Drupal not been available. The team had looked at other CMS options previously, but none fit the budget or provided a good enough fit out of the box.

The LocalGov Drupal Beta team was closely involved with the Cumbria Alpha. Many of the features being deployed were brand new and were being used on a production site for the first time (the new Base theme, for example).  

Kate and the team also attended LocalGov Drupal show and tells with other councils, swapping notes about new features and best practice. 

A couple of members of the team are also active participants in the LocalGov Drupal Slack channel.

Outcomes

Senior Cumbria officers and members are delighted with the Alpha. The council is now considering further investment in a Beta which will include detailed content design work for all sections of the site. 

The Cumbria team is also tracking the impact of the Alpha with Siteimprove, Google Analytics, and a website feedback form. There's a short survey for call centre agents, built by the team for the council's Liberty Converse platform. The results will be published here.

There have been improvements to our website and customer experience in 6 months that we have been trying to achieve for 3 years. But, more than that, the new ways of working that this project has brought to Cumbria County Council has had a fantastic effect on our immediate team and the wider organisation. We're seeing new thinking that goes beyond the Drupal project.
Simon Higgins, Assistant Director, Customer and Community Services, Cumbria County Council

 

If you would like to find out more or have any questions just drop us a line at hello@localgovdrupal.org. We are always happy to chat about LocalGov Drupal, provide a demo of the platform, or show how councils are using it.