We’ve been working on a project to build a user research panel for the GOV.UK user research team. We’ve now signed contracts, kicked off the project and we’re well down the road in terms of infosec, content, design and development.
We’re going agile in developing the panel. No surprises there. We’ll launch a very simple version of the panel by the end of July 2016, and develop it further as we learn what works, what doesn’t, and what panelists and researchers need.
In this post I’ll tell you more about what we’re building, and, if you’re a user researcher working in government, why it may be of interest to you.
What’s a user research panel?
In short, it’s a database of people who’ve volunteered to share their details – such as name, contact details and basic demographic information – so they can be invited to participate in user research sessions appropriate to them.
Why we’re building a user research panel
We’re building a panel to give us a new way to recruit participants for GOV.UK user research.
We expect the panel will help us recruit both general GOV.UK users, and people visiting specific pages on GOV.UK – something external recruiters can’t do for us.
We think we’ll get participants that better match the criteria we want, and perhaps that we’ll be more cost efficient too.
The panel won’t mean the end of our relationship with external recruiters. We'll still use them for specific demographics and for large-scale research projects.
A quick overview of the mechanics
We’re working with Squiz to customise an instance of SugarCRM Enterprise, build a panel sign-up form, and build a landing page for follow up surveys. The sign-up form and follow up surveys will be hosted on GOV.UK subdomains.
People will be invited to join the panel via selected GOV.UK pages, feedback forms and social media. Once panelists have completed the sign-up process, including a double-opt in, their details will be securely stored in SugarCRM.
SugarCRM is a customer relationship management tool. It’ll allow GOV.UK researchers to search the database for panelists specific to their needs – such as people under 25 who live in a rural area – invite them to research, and easily manage and track all communications with them.
We’ll be able to use SugarCRM to generate and send follow up surveys to specific groups of panelists. For instance, we might want to learn more about panelists who’ve said they’re over 65 so that we can recruit more specifically. Are they working full time or part-time, or are they retired? Do they have caring responsibilities?
Many teams use a survey tool and spreadsheet: why we’re going bigger
Many user research teams use a survey tool, like SurveyMonkey, and an Excel spreadsheet to run a user research panel. This works on a limited scale, but most teams find that as their panel grows it becomes difficult and time consuming to track panelist communications, particularly across team members.
More importantly, because we’ll be collecting personal information (and possibly sensitive-personal information), our user research panel must meet Cabinet Office information security standards.
To meet these needs, our panel has been designed with security in mind. It’s being hosted on secure data servers in the UK, and the technical support team is based in the UK and have appropriate security clearances.
Why this work could be relevant to you
GDS will own the intellectual property (IP) for the panel and all the customisations. And we’ve contracted the project so that other government departments can license an instance of our solution with SugarCRM.
It won’t be quite out-the-box – you’ll need to do your own work around hosting and infosec – but all the development and user research groundwork will have been done for you.
All being well, and by the end of this year, we hope user research teams across government will be able to license and implement the GOV.UK panel for their own use. We can’t make promises quite yet, but watch this space.
If you’d like more information about this project, email Kate at email@example.com.