Headless CMS Platform for Local Government

Full Application: Not funded at this stage

Local Government organisations use a broad range of website platforms to provide information and online services to local citizens and businesses.  Many of these platforms are limited by proprietary formats, vendor lock-ins and legacy functionality which cannot easily adapt to change. This can reduce opportunities for channel shift, and can also limit opportunities for end-to-end service redesign and open collaboration.

This lack of flexibility also makes it hard for local authorities to use content more creatively to meet the needs of citizens in a connected world – and to embrace emerging technologies such as voice and AI which can make a significant impact on the lives of some of our most expensive and hard to reach service users.

Stockport has built an open source website and is working with Essex County Council to reuse their headless-CMS website platform (.NET/C#). We would like to investigate opportunities to move beyond just ‘making it work’ for Essex County Council by opening up this platform for wider reuse.

In the Alpha phase we will focus on making generic, documenting and adding additional functionality to the existing live and battle tested open source project. The project will lay the foundations for an exemplar low cost, future-proof and flexible website platform solution, owned by and tailored to the needs of local government.  It will deliver high quality, mobile friendly, user tested and accessible experiences to citizens.

Key areas of focus will include:

  • A set of brand neutral front end templates
  • A set of content types to meet the needs of local government
  • A functional application to allow the use of the above, agnostic to CMS provider
  • Improvements to breadcrumbs, URLs, taxonomy and nested content
  • Documentation of the above
  • Full separation of, documentation for and exemplars of API layers allowing users to create their own CMS integrations
  • Simplifying use of and documentation for existing Contentful API implementation.

Please see Diagram 1 to outline scope of works.  https://www.digitalstockport.info/mhclg-submission/


The Alpha project will be led by Stockport Council, with remote support and input from the ECC team and delivered by a mixture of in-house skills and external suppliers. We intend to run a Discovery using the Local Authority networks both council’s have built up to explore requirements both in terms of what they need from a website and what would enable them to use Stockport’s.  From this we will create SMART objectives which we will build into our project plan and use to test success.

December 2018
  • Project kick off
  • Procure resource
January 2019
  • Secure resource
  • Full partner kick off to establish ways of working together
  • Discovery with wider Local Authorities to scope & capture requirements
  • Develop project plan & SMART objectives
February 2019
  • Work with GDS to explore best governance practices and principles for true Open Source projects.
  • Sprint planning
March 2019
  • 1st deliverables released and tested with users
  • Subset Implementation Generic gov.uk templates
  • Functional Implementation against restful API spec
April 2019
  • Additional functionality – breadcrumbs (dynamic) & twitter Integration
  • Implement your Own – Interface spec & model definitions plus Empty API Implementation
  • Use Ours – Existing Contentful API Implementation plus Expanded and Improved documentation
  • Validation / playback with stakeholders/LAs
  • Publish/promotion
  • Retro / Next steps – possible next phase to research into future service delivery patterns that could be offered by the public sector utilising the headless CMS approach

We will work in 2-week sprints, setting objectives and building in feedback loops with stakeholders, to ensure the delivery of this project phase on time and on purpose.

We will have SMART objectives for each of the project sprints that align to the project success criteria to measure if the objectives have been met.

We plan to develop the assets throughout the project phase lifecycle, with built in feedback loops, to ensure that we are ready to publish by 30 April 2019.

Stockport Council is already seeing benefits from the creation of our new website and other councils can share in this.

  1. Since launch page views increased by 31% and at the same time we saw a 5% reduction in contacts through the central Contact Centre equating to 22,355 fewer contacts.  Thus allowing resource to be saved or deployed to areas of more complex need.  (Potential saving of £59,911 based on £8.62 face-to-face, £2.83 telephone, and £0.15 via the web. Source: The Better Connected SOCITM report, March 2012.
  2. By building the capability in house we annually save £28k on 3rd party maintenance and hosting costs
  3. A more stable and resilient site – 99.99% uptime means users find the site reliable 24/7
  4. Web analytics available to monitor performance, ensure content is being accessed and encourage service areas to be more interested in their web content; to reduce broken links and spelling mistakes and breaches in our policies.
  5. High quality search facility providing the ability to manipulate internal search results to help users find the information they need

One of the main benefits to other councils is that they do not need to re-do all the expensive and time-consuming user research, nor the development.  Stockport has a product that is live and working, and with this funding and a little work all councils could have a mobile-friendly, user tested, accessibility compliant, government standard website up and running in next to no time and with little outlay.

In creating the new Stockport.gov.uk, Stockport Council commissioned a number of specialist agencies.  Reading Room conducted research into the usability of our old Alterian website so we had an evidence base of user need from which to start our work, and we procured ThoughtWorks as a delivery partner, supporting us through our Discovery, Inception and first Build phases.

During Discovery the complexity and volume of user needs uncovered truly reflected the breadth of what councils do to support and serve citizens and created a huge backlog of works. Whilst everything could be delivered over time, the initial scope for delivery was ruthlessly prioritised jointly by the businesses and programme team to ensure best value for money.  Functionality has been added as we progressed in an agile fashion, testing with users fortnightly as we went and adjusting as required to ensure the website continues to meet their needs.

We made sure the users we tested with represented a mix of genders, age groups, digital skills, accessibility needs and locations.

See Photograph 2 – Image of a Discovery session in full swing https://www.digitalstockport.info/mhclg-submission/

All local authorities have websites, and these are used to provide information, advice and guidance to local residents and businesses with varying levels of success and efficiency.  The creation of an open, flexible and future-proofed CMS that is tailored to the needs of local government will provide a low-cost and effective platform for wider collaboration and sharing.

In the spirit of the Local Digital Declaration Stockport Council has run a number of Open Days where we have invited in any local authority from across the UK who wishes to see the journey we have been on, the work we are doing and offer a chance for collaboration. From this and from our close connections with authorities within the Greater Manchester Combined Authority we have a large network of willing local authority users to act as a test bed.

Both Stockport and Essex also have established peer networks across local government, and we will use channels such as LocalGovDigital Slack to engage with others.

Business Case – Stockport’s 2015-17 Digital by Design transformation programme secured an unprecedented one-off £7.4 million to modernise a range of council services, with a focus on the provision of good quality Information, Advice and Guidance, customer contact, online self-service and engagement with communities.  The business case detailed the value of creating a new, accessible, mobile friendly stockport.gov.uk in providing an easily accessible window to the council, where information is easy to find and easy to understand. It also enable the building of in-house development capability that can now be leveraged to support the next steps for the platform.

User Research & Accessibility – Stockport commissioned Reading Room to conduct user research to inform the initial design.  During the build Stockport’s own User Researchers conducted guerilla testing fortnightly in public venues to ensure universal usability, and using a wide range of devices – mobile, tablet, laptop.  We also user tested accessibility of the site with multiple disability groups and follow accessibility guidance and good practice from gov.uk.  As a minimum, our website meets level AA of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.

Conclusion – This funding will allow us to package and share the output of this investment with other councils.  In the spirit of the Local Digital Declaration, Stockport has already put much of this work in the public domain, however, more work is required to make it truly open; and collaboration, development, testing and documentation is required to ensure it is something that other councils can easily reuse and benefit from.  We’d also like to use this time to explore how to best govern an open source product so that all authorities can build on the ideas and work of others.

See Photograph 1 – Image of an Empathy Mapping workshop; a key part of understanding user need. https://www.digitalstockport.info/mhclg-submission/

In creating the new Stockport.gov.uk website, Stockport Council commissioned Reading Room to conduct research into the usability of our old Alterian website so we had an evidence base of things to address from which to start our work.  Throughout development we conducted guerilla user-testing with members of the public fortnightly and more planned user testing with groups of users with specific needs.

For this proposal though our users are other Local Authorities who may wish to use the website.

Stockport Council has been blogging since the website’s inception to share learning and already has a network of engaged peers.  As part of this bid we would like to get these and other Local Authorities more directly involved by inviting them to a Discovery where we can discuss their needs both in terms of functionality of the website and documentation and tools they need to be able to reproduce a site of their own.  We will then continue to feedback in a virtuous cycle as work progresses so their feedback informs the way we work and what is delivered.

We will communicate the progress and findings from our work using our respective blogs, and outputs will be made accessible online so that other councils can immediately benefit and we can start to build a wider community around the developing product and roadmap.

We would like to be able to benefit from:

  1. Exploration and advice on what is required technically to create and then govern a truly open source product/project
  2. Access to GDS user research labs (to help us bring down the project cost for user research sessions)
  3. Ability to send comms via MHCLG channels (like newsletter, twitter, etc) to help us ‘work out loud’
  4. Help with sharing the outputs with the local gov sector
  5. Help with engaging with other councils that may want to feed into our project.
  6. Help with identifying opportunities and use cases around local government patterns, that can be tested and iterated via the headless CMS platform

Resource costs for the ECC team detailed below will be funded from the internal ECC Tech Services ‘Digital Enablement’ Portfolio business case.  ECC has received no external funding for this project.

Stockport’s Digital by Design programme, which saw the creation of stockport.gov.uk, was 100% internally funded.  SMBC has received no external funding for this project.