Intranet Alpha

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.


Week Notes - 11/01/20222

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!


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