Intranet Alpha - Week Notes

Welcome to the new year! The mornings might still be dark, but we’re excited to bring a little light to your life with our work that Essex County Council (ECC) are doing in partnership with Futuregov to design an open Intranet!

We’ll be working on this project for the next couple of months, and we’d like to share a weeknote a week with you.

What’s the project?

We’re delivering a 10-week Alpha project to test ‘what might an open information and resource platform for ECC staff look like?’.

An alpha project is where we test our riskiest assumptions, so that we can be confident we’re building the right thing before we make a bigger investment.

ECC carried out a Discovery earlier in the year to explore the challenges around the intranet. We found out that:

  • Some staff, especially those without an ECC device, find it hard to access the Intranet
  • It’s hard for people to find the information they need on the Intranet
  • People don’t always trust the information they find
  • The Intranet is a really important tool - 44% of staff use it every day

This Alpha phase is a chance for us to test how we might fix some of the challenges we have. We’re asking ourselves the question:

What if the information on the intranet was open, on the web, for anyone to see?

This could make it a lot easier for our staff to access the information they need to do their jobs. Someone could view a sickness policy from a mobile phone from home, whether or not they have an ECC laptop. We’ve been inspired by other organisations with open intranets, including Barnado’s and Devon County Council.

Who’s in the team? 

We’ve got two distinct workstreams:

  • ‘User Experience’ which is leading the work on improving content, understanding users and testing prototypes.
  • ‘Technology Discovery’, which will select a content management system (CMS) option for the Intranet Alpha, as well as testing some of the technical constraints.

We’re trying out a fortnightly sprint review and one stand-up each week with both workstreams together, to make sure we’re all on the same page.

Both work streams have a blended team of Essex and Futuregov team members, but here’s a slide with all of us on it!

Head shots of the Intranet Alpha Team

Evaluating and selecting a CMS for the Intranet Alpha

We’re considering user needs of content editors, non-functional requirements and Essex’s strategic goals. We’ll take all these factors into account when we choose a CMS.

We’ve put together a shortlist of CMS options to consider. We’ve already excluded some options for our Alpha. For instance, we won’t be using Sharepoint for our alpha prototypes, because it won’t let us test an open Intranet. However, we’ll include a cost comparison with Sharepoint to help us make decisions going forward.

We’re aiming to choose a CMS for the Alpha in the next week. We’ll then be able to use this CMS to start building some prototypes that we can test with users - more on this to follow!

Designing and testing new Intranet content

We’ve spent the best part of these first pre-Christmas sprints trying to understand the scale of the content and narrowing our scope. There Is so much that we could do. But with finite time and resources, our aim is to solve specific problems well.

In practical terms, all that chit-chat led to a scope of work document that outlines what we want to achieve. Here’s a list of what we plan to do over the rest of the project:

As a content team, we will:

  • create a working alpha version of one area of the intranet
  • research and design 2–3 key user journeys or transactions
  • write up to 10 new pages to show what good content looks like for an open intranet
  • design a new information architecture for the entire intranet
  • create content design patterns and components for clear, consistent publishing
  • develop a concise content operations model that includes governance guidelines

We’ve also identified four user journeys that we may redesign for the alpha. Our decisions are based on how popular the tasks are, but we also want to make sure we develop journeys that cover both open and closed aspects of the intranet.

When we get back after the festive break, our priority will be to start redesigning those key user journeys. We’ve also got user research activities and interviews penned in that will inform a new information architecture for the ‘leave’ content area..

Coming up 

We’ll soon be holding our first Show and Tell for the Intranet project, and we’d love to have you there. Get in touch via you you want an invite.



Hope you are all doing well! We’ve had a busy couple of weeks on the Intranet team! We’ve formally come to the end of our Alpha phase, which means that the Futuregov team are no longer working with us, and we’re a smaller team. We’ve also had a service assessment.

Thanks to those of you who came along to our show and tell today. If you didn’t make it, feel free to watch the recording or look at our slides.

With that, here’s what we’ve been working on recently:

Releasing the intranet alpha to staff 

We released the test site to a small group of ECC staff and Ringway Jacobs employees. We wanted to validate whether those without an ECC device could access the new intranet. We also collected feedback on whether users trusted the test site, and whether they could book annual leave.

Site tracking showed over 100 people visited the site between 10 –17 February, with users visiting over 8 pages on average. 79 of these gave feedback via a short survey. Everyone who completed the survey was able to access the site. This included those on mobile devices, shared ECC devices, and a third-party device.

Of those who went beyond the homepage and explored the site, most agreed the site could be trusted. 26 people tried to book leave, and all but 1 were successful. Feedback ranged from ‘very easy’, ‘another way to book leave’ to ‘there were 4 links to follow before you even go to My Oracle [to book leave]’

Lastly, we also used the release to benchmark the work we’ve done against the current intranet. For this we used a standardised survey called the System usability scale. This research-backed survey has been in use for over 30 years and provides a low-cost and reliable method of measuring system usability.

Previously 15 staff had rated the current intranet, giving it a score of 67 out of 100. 63 survey participants completed the SUS questionnaire. The test site performed slightly better with an average of 73 points. Our aim is to eventually reach 85, which would place the intranet in the top 10% of websites.

Service assessment 

Service assessments are a way of us getting feedback and an external peer review of our work. They assess the work that we’ve done against the service standard. This was a first for ECC, so we wanted to make sure that this was a constructive process that provided the team with valuable feedback, rather than it being a formal gateway to proceeding to the next stage. 

Our service assessors were Ben Unsworth (our Director of Service Transformation), Chris Thompson (Director of IT at Northumberland County Council) and Elle Tweedy (freelance designer). We’re very grateful to Chris and Elle for taking the time to be assessors for the intranet product.

On the day, we took the assessors through a show and tell of the work that we’d done, and then discussed the questions that they had for us on how we’d met the points of the standard. It took a lot of work to prepare for the assessment, but it was worthwhile – we got some really positive feedback that will help direct our work for the next stages. For example, the assessors were impressed that:

  • the team were able to explain why they prioritised specific user needs and which journey to test in alpha
  • a dedicated content team was working to improve navigation, information architecture and to design content for a range of users
  • the prototypes the team developed are open source and based on the GOV.UK prototype kit

And recommended that we:

  • carry out testing with key user groups including front-line phone support staff and highways staff
  • include a service designer in the team to help define the vision and target experience for the end-to-end journey
  • have a plan for engaging with organisational governance to assure implementing production technology

Check out the full assessment report.

Defining the role the intranet plays 

Our two existing intranets run on SharePoint 2016 on on-premises servers. We have a target of moving away from this technology in November 2022, which means that we have to be really intentional about which content we target for moving to the new platform.

We’ve developed an approach to prioritisation so that we can deliver the most value to the most users. This means we’ll be prioritising content which serves user needs for the whole council, rather than information that’s only relevant to one function. If we need to look at information for one service, this will have to be looked at after the initial intranet is built. In practice, this means that:

  • We’ll be migrating some PDFs as is, and looking to improve the way that content is presented later. This is so that we are not held up in delivering a better intranet by the lengthy process of content redesign
  • Document storage needs, for example policy documents, will in the first instance move to Sharepoint Online rather than the new intranet. We’ll link to those documents in the same way that we link to other systems. This means that we have options to control access to those documents more easily.

What we’re working on next 

We’re carrying out a comprehensive content audit of the current intranet content, which will put us in a good position to understand what resources and time we’ll need to redesign content.

We’ll be engaging with some of our key internal governance groups to get their support for the approach that we’re taking going forward. We’ll also be continuing our conversations with Technology Services and Information Governance to make sure that we’re doing the right thing.

After this, we’ll be launching a procurement to get us the support that we’ll need for the beta phase, including development support so that we’re able to build an instance of LocalGov Drupal which we can then populate with content.

Keeping in touch with you 

Because we have a smaller team between phases, we won’t be able to communicate with you as regularly through notes or show and tells. We’ll still get in touch when we have something interesting to share! As ever, please get in touch with us if you’d like to find out more about the work that we’ve done.



Pivoting our test plans for this sprint (and the Alpha phase)

Originally we were planning to test the LocalGov Drupal Intranet site with users in this sprint. However, when we had our sprint planning session, we realised that we wouldn’t have the site ready until a few days before the end of the sprint, and so we focused on testing with users through our coded prototype on Heroku, which uses an adapted version of the GOV.UK Prototype Kit.

This let us test and iterate the content and interaction design of the prototype quickly, without investing as much time as it would take to get the LocalGov Drupal site ready. We’ve still tested whether LocalGov Drupal meets the needs for the open intranet, and found that the feature set can support our current proposals for the design and information architecture. This gives us confidence that we’ll be able to build on the LocalGov Drupal site further in Beta, when we’ll want a more robust product.

We’ve got a first draft of the Information Architecture 

This week we progressed the first draft Information Architecture to the point where we were satisfied with it for this phase. This doesn’t include everything. Rather, what we wanted to do in this phase was to get a first draft of the structure on the homepage. We’ve also tested a more developed Information Architecture for the Annual Leave section with end users. We’ll continue to test and iterate the wider site structure over the coming months ahead of Beta.

Developing a set of recommendations for managing content 

Caroline, Iain and Hannah have been working on recommendations for how to manage, create, update and remove content on the Intranet site to take forward in the Beta phase. As well as this the document also discusses what skills the team behind the Intranet should include and the approach to migrating content. They’ll be discussing this more in Wednesday’s show and tell and we’ll share the recommendations as part of the final project weeknote.

Roadmapping and next steps 

Last Wednesday we came together as a team to discuss next steps for the product and what key questions we’d have to resolve before Beta and during Beta. Some of the key questions we’re thinking about at the moment are:

  • What is the product team we need to deliver the Intranet in the next phase?
  • Who should have overall ownership of the intranet in the long-term?
  • Do we want a phased migration from the old site to the new one?
  • Do we want to migrate policy content to HTML?
  • Do we exclude pure ‘document storage’ needs from services?

Come to our third show and tell!

We’re very excited to have our third project Show & Tell on Wednesday 9th February at 11-11:50am. If you’ve not had an invite or would like to extend to colleagues, please let us know. We’re looking forward to seeing you all there!

Please feel free to get in touch with us at any time via we’re always happy to hear from you.



We have a prototype!

Last week Karen designed a coded prototype (you can see the designs here) which looks great, ready for testing this week! The prototype shows what a redesigned landing page could look like as well as updating content for the ‘Book annual leave’ page and ‘Buy more annual leave’ page, both including content which is ‘open’ as well as links to the MyOracle platform.

Intranet Prototype of Essex County Council Website

This was a real team effort with Helen contributing with research, and Iain and Hannah developing the content for these pages with Karen completing the designs and we’re pleased to be testing it this week with staff.

Testing the prototype

Helen is leading on designing the research sessions. We’ll be testing a prototype as well as tree testing potential navigation. We have recruited a mix of participants from across the council.

To help us design an inclusive intranet we have recruited participants with cognitive impairments such as dyslexia. This round of research we hope to learn:

  • Whether staff can confidently find the leave information they need and where they may expect different leave information.
  • Whether employees trust the leave information and discover what might need to change to make the information more trustworthy.
  • Whether users understand that MyOracle is an integrated platform they can use for managing leave and discover what we might need to change to make it easy for users to understand.

Developing the Alpha Intranet product site with LocalGov Drupal

Last week, Lizzie and Hannah worked on setting up the development process for LocalGov Drupal and outlined the tasks that were needed.

LocalGov Drupal uses Lando, a docker-based development environment which, combined with some of Drupal’s own command line functionality, means that Hannah and Lizzie can share data between their local environments easily.

They have worked on creating content types to match those needed by Essex and also researched the best hosting options for this project.

This week, Hannah is concentrating on the design side of the theme, making our own theme based on the LocalGov Drupal base theme. Lizzie is focusing on the deployment of the application.

Come to our second show and tell!

We’re very excited to have our second project Show & Tell Thursday 27th January @ 11am. If you’ve not had an invite or would like to extend to colleagues, please let us know. We’re looking forward to seeing you all there!

Please feel free to get in touch with us at any time by contacting



Selected LocalGov Drupal as our Alpha CMS

We needed to pick a CMS (Content Management System) to prototype some new solutions in this Alpha phase. We assessed several CMS options against a range of criteria, such as: how they support a hierarchy of pages; accessibility of the content editor interface; and whether content can be archived.

We’ve chosen LocalGov Drupal for the Alpha. There are lots of plans to use LocalGov Drupal for other sites across the council. As we’re in an Alpha phase right now, we’ll be testing LocalGov Drupal to see if it can meet ECC’s needs for an open intranet, so that we can make a good recommendation after the Alpha is finished.

Understanding users’ information needs and their understanding of existing intranet content

We carried out our first round of user research. Using Microsoft Teams we interviewed five people from around the council and they completed a card sort using the online whiteboard Miro. Alongside these moderated sessions we ran a card sort staff could complete independently in their own time. We’ll use the interview data to understand what information staff need for annual leave and other types of time off.  The labels and groupings that participants created in card sorts will help us generate the site structure for the new intranet.

Designing and testing prototype content for booking annual leave 

For our next round of research we’ve decided to build our first prototype around the user journey for booking annual leave. We selected this as it’s a journey with a fairly small amount of content, but one which affects all potential users and involves several different internal systems.

Our first Show & Tell 

We’re very excited to have our first project Show & Tell on Wednesday 12th January at 2-2:50pm. If you’ve not had an invite or would like to extend to colleagues, please let us know via We’re looking forward to seeing you all there!

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  1. Comment by Steve Bennett posted on

    Hi Bianca and the team
    Don't know if you get much feedback on your blog but I wanted to say that I really enjoyed it. The simple act of reading it has motivated me to think a little differently in a website project I'm running at Hart District Council.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Replies to Steve Bennett>

      Comment by Bianca Cole posted on

      Hello Steve

      Thank you so much for your feedback, really appreciate you taking the time to reach out. We are always keen to share and collaborate, so if you ever want to get in touch to bounce ideas or ask questions do get in touch via

      Good luck with your project and do keep us updated on how you get on.


  2. Comment by Mr M P Cole Esq posted on

    Great work - keep it up!

  3. Comment by Richard Pascoe posted on

    Just to echo the sentiment, sharing like this is really helpful - a colleague shared this as an example as part of a discussion about working in the open we were having - I've moved from local gov into the NHS and sense this is a newer conversation.

    And I'd be really interested in the answer to your challenge about an open intranet as had exactly that discussion a few years ago with no success.

    • Replies to Richard Pascoe>

      Comment by Keelan Fadden-Hopper posted on

      Thanks for your message, Richard! Really glad to hear that it's of interest in the NHS too - great that working in the open makes a difference. We think there's a good case for making the intranet open, but keep following us to see how it goes!


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