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Assessing the user research behind assisted digital support

Ben Carpenter and Ruben P. Huidobro work at GDS. Ruben is a user researcher, helping projects across government to do great user research and meet the Digital Service Standard. Ben looks at the guidance and requirements around assisted digital and digital take up. Ben and Ruben also sit on service standard assessment panels. In this post they focus on assisted digital support needs.

In a service standard assessment we evaluate the service teams’ understanding of the users of their service, the research they did to gain that understanding, and how the decisions they're making are based on it.

Public services aren’t just for tech-savvy people who don’t need help with technology, so we’re interested in more than just the part of the service that lives online.

What is assisted digital support?

Some users need help with online services. We call this ‘assisted digital support’. Anyone can need it, but users who do are much more likely to have low digital skills and be among the most vulnerable people in society. Assisted digital support ensures they aren’t excluded from online public services.

We're interested in what different types of support people need in different situations, as well as how they find and access support.

We’re also interested in the very first step of a user’s journey, and what makes them take that step. Journeys often start offline, with the need to deal with Government being triggered by a letter, a chat, and advert or a life event.

What teams are doing right

We’ve watched service teams mature over time, getting better at finding out more about their users – what it is that they need and the journeys they travel to meet those needs.

Here are some common observations from assessments we’ve been in, where teams are doing the right things to research their users’ assisted digital support needs.

The team is researching with the right people

People can have many challenges when faced with an online public service. Identifying the greatest support needs means talking to users with the lowest levels of digital skills, confidence and access.

It can take time to reach these users, but it’s vital if the team are going to build a service that works for everyone. The Waste Carriers service did some great work on this, and there are many approaches a team can take.

In an assessment we talk to the service team about how they’re reaching these users. Are they reaching out offline, understanding that online surveys, emails and social media are not appropriate ways to reach people who aren't online or lack digital skills and confidence? We ask whether the team has visited places that users of their services with low digital skills are most likely to be and if they’re talking to relevant organisations to help make contact.

The team understands all of their users’ support needs

Even users with higher levels of digital skill may need assisted digital support – they may lack confidence or access, or the service may be complicated or stressful, or badly designed.

When was the last time you ended up on the phone because you couldn't find an online route, or it didn't work properly or didn't give you enough confidence?

We ask teams about their research into all users’ support needs. Only when they understand these can they understand the overall volume of support they'll need to ensure is in place.

The service is thinking about support from third parties

Some users might not get support from the service itself but from third parties, such as friends, colleagues, family, charities, other government departments, solicitors or retailers.

We ask services about their understanding of the full scale and range of routes and providers their users need to meet their support needs.

The team’s assisted digital support plans are based on nothing but their great research

Doing the right research is the only way teams can design support that meets point 12 of the service standard.

We ask teams how they are designing their assisted digital support model solely to meet the needs they’ve learned about from their user research. We check it’s not based on assumptions, bad research or a minister's wishes. We also check they're not just proposing the generic support model that their department already happens to have in place. The model may work but needs to be specifically tailored to what the team knows their users need.

We ask teams to explain how they know there will be enough support for all users who might need it, including those currently relying on friends and family, or paying an intermediary such as a solicitor or salesperson.

We also ask teams how they’re making sure users know about the support, so they don’t end up using a different service or, worst of all, not using the service at all.

What we've learned

The most important things we’ve learned are that:

  1. there is no such thing as an ‘assisted digital user’ – just users who need support and services (online and offline) that must meet those needs
  2. for many users, the support is the service


Keep in touch. Sign up to email updates from this blog. Follow Ben on Twitter. Follow Ruben and Ben on Twitter.

Feature image credit: Beau Lebens, Ramp Stairs, Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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