Skip to main content

Real User Story Slam: helping people learn more about our users

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Empathy
John Waterworth shares a story at a recent story slam.
GDS user researcher, John Waterworth, shares a story at a recent story slam

Once a month at GDS we hold a 'Real User Story Slam'. At the story slam, people from across GDS gather to hear stories about what we’ve learned in user research.

5 short stories/3 minutes each

We get some snacks and organise 5 short stories of around 3 minutes each. We focus on storytelling and try to 'bring to life' the people we’ve met and the experiences they’ve shared with us.

It's a really simple way to help more people get exposure hours, and to help us all remember what life is like for our users.

There are no slides and no videos, though sometimes we show a photograph of the person we’re telling a story about.

It's not all good news

It's a bit of a strange session: stories about people who interact with government are often a bit depressing. Do you clap after you've heard a story about someone's difficult life?

We’ve learned to end the session with a video from usability testing that shows people responding positively to the work we're doing.

If we care about user needs...

People seem to think the story slams are useful. One audience member emailed us to say it was the most relevant thing she'd seen in months.

If we care about user needs, we need to hear stories about our users. You should try doing a Real User Story Slam where you are too.

We're happy to share any pointers. Also, let us know how it's working for you.

Keep in touch. Sign up to email updates from this blogFollow Leisa on Twitter

Sharing and comments

Share this page


  1. Comment by Joshua Mouldey posted on

    Do you have an example of a 'typical' story (not a real one for privacy reasons, but just sort of a template)?

    This sounds really interesting, but I can't quite picture whether you mean stories that relate to a user's attempt to use government services (esp. those services in a current development phase), or more generalised stories from research about users who could/should have needs towards a government service(s) due to their life circumstances. (Or I guess both/neither!)

    • Replies to Joshua Mouldey>

      Comment by Leisa Reichelt posted on

      sure, that's a great question.

      I can give you an example that I shared that was my own personal experience (which is not what we usually do but I can share this one without any privacy concerns) - this is the kind of story we would share.

      So you can see we tell stories of what is going on in people's lives when they come to interact with government, rather than just a story about them filling in a form. Giving more context to how transactions and services fit into peoples' lives.

  2. Comment by Joshua Mouldey posted on

    Perfect, thanks Leisa. Really illustrates the difference between emotional needs and functional needs as well.

  3. Comment by Natalie Smithson posted on

    This is a really interesting idea. Do you think it would have value for learning about internal users as a way to connect caseworkers to management? My focus is on redesigning our intranet to something that is useful rather than an unused document store. I'm always looking for ways to demonstrate some of the intangible insights I learn from my colleagues.

    • Replies to Natalie Smithson>

      Comment by Leisa Reichelt posted on

      yes, as it happens our next User Story Slam is all stories of people we've met who work in government and their experiences doing their jobs using the tools they have to use... anytime you need to build empathy, I think this can be helpful.