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Building a new online service: petitioning a hybrid bill

Boxes of written objections received in response to HS2 Bill
Boxes of written objections received in response to HS2 Bill

On 30 January, PDS launched a new online process for petitioning against a hybrid bill. A hybrid bill means that it’s both a private and public bill and if you want to raise an objection to one, it's a different process from other types of bill.

The Lords had trialled allowing people to email their objections but, generally, people had to either travel to London to hand in a paper copy or send in their comments by post. Now they can submit online saving them time and money.

Too much paper

Parliament needed to make improvements to the petitioning process after receiving hundreds of paper petitions against phase 1 of HS2. We saw an opportunity to get involved and develop this as a digital service and it was too important to pass up.

Working across Parliament

To begin work we needed input and expertise from a lot of people. We built a team of people from different disciplines to look at the public-facing side. Developers from the business systems team created the Parliament-facing system, allowing the petitions to be collected and published. The Clerk of Private Bills in the Commons and the Clerk of Delegated Legislation in the Lords volunteered to be our product owners within Parliament.

One of the most important steps was mapping the whole process of hybrid bills petitioning to understand all the things that happened before and after our small part of the process. Many of us on the new website team are relatively new to Parliament and didn’t have experience of hybrid bills so it was vital to helping us understand the process. At this point, the parliamentary knowledge from our product owners was invaluable.

Build, test, iterate

Once we understood the existing process we jumped straight into building a prototype. We were on a very tight deadline so our cycle of build, test, iterate had to be intense and steady. We needed to get enough user feedback to make the best online process we could in the time available. In the end, we designed, wrote, built, and tested six versions of the hybrid bills prototype before arriving at the final version.

At times, this intense pace was a strain on the team. However with constant communication, collaboration, and organisation between the different disciplines, we were able to get the web pages ready and to a high standard.

We also kept in touch with business systems throughout to make sure their system could receive and understand all the information inputted by users at the right time. Observers from the committee offices also attended our testing and iteration sessions. This was to make sure we were staying on track and building a system that worked for everyone and reflected the parliamentary process.

We’re now moving on from hybrid bills but the project won’t be abandoned. We’re scheduling time in to update, improve, and tweak the process in response to user feedback. This, along with our collaborative testing, reduces the risks associated with going live with a new product. We know our product isn’t perfect but only by putting it out in the wild can we evaluate how far we’ve come and learn what the most beneficial improvements might be for users.

Converting analogue to digital

The project allowed us to work with the Lords and Commons Private Bill Offices to convert an analogue process to a digital one. It's now more efficient, scalable, and accessible to people inside and outside of Parliament.

This process behind the development of this new service is a great example of digital transformation in Parliament. It demonstrates how we want to work on all products for the new website - working together, iteratively, and in the open. It's also fundamental to what we want to achieve in PDS: excellent digital services for a modern Parliament.

Read more about the work we've been doing to improve

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