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Collaborative user research for #VerifyLocal discovery

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Verify Local poster

The #VerifyLocal pilots are investigating how GOV.UK Verify might effectively be extended to local authorities. This is the first time GDS has had the opportunity to pilot the use of one of its platforms for end-to-end service transformation across local and central government boundaries.

The 2 pilot projects are looking at residents’ parking permits and older people’s concessionary travel. With both pilots in the discovery phase my role has been to help local authority teams understand the needs of their users and make sure they’re building services that will meet those needs.

In the last couple of months, we have trained about 40 new user researchers, conducted around 150 interviews with users and helped 17 councils to understand the needs of their service users. The collaboration across 17 councils brought us scale and learning that no individual authority could achieve alone.

Collaborating at this scale has been a huge challenge and for many of the local authorities involved this is the first time they’ve worked in such a user-centred way.

We’ve achieved an incredible amount in a relatively short time, by offering the training, tools and support to get each of the local authority teams talking to their own users. Here’s how we did it.

Starting with training

In early November 2016 we ran a user research training day for the teams involved, attended by around 40 of our local authority colleagues, most with little or no user research experience.

The training provided a mixture of theory and practice, so that each local authority would leave with:

  • a clear understanding of why they should do user research as part of their discovery phase
  • approaches for recruiting users, conducting interviews and running collaborative analysis and feedback sessions with their teams
  • an understanding of the objectives of their research and an approach for iterating and refining this with their project team

The training day was a great success, giving those who attended confidence in their ability to achieve some really challenging targets we set for them, and a clear set of techniques.

Providing the tools

In addition to training, we made sure that each researcher was provided with all the documents and templates they would need whilst planning, moderating and analysing their own research, including:

  • research planning checklists
  • consent forms for research participants
  • user journey mapping templates
  • interview prompts for research moderators
  • guidance and templates for documenting user needs and research findings

Offering support

By having everyone take a common approach, we hoped that the teams would not only be able to share their findings, but also learn from each other about the different challenges they faced. This proved to be the case at regular joint calls where local authority researchers were able to share their experiences and the lessons they had learnt.

In addition to this, where researchers encountered specific problems, we were able to offer one-to-one coaching and advice to help them deal with these and maintain the rate of progress of the programme.

What have we achieved?

All of the councils taking part in #VerifyLocal have now completed their research for the discovery phase, have mapped out their existing user journeys and understand how their users’ needs fit into these.

At the local level, this means that the local authority teams have an excellent understanding of their users’ needs and can also validate those against the findings of their peers. At the national level, it means that we can see what is and isn’t working locally and understand the range of needs that our common service patterns must meet to work in each local context.

This breadth of insight would not have been possible to achieve alone, but is a result of the fantastic input from the local authority teams we’re working with. We’re also happy to hear that several councils are adopting these approaches on new projects, outside of the pilots, and reaping the benefits of better understanding of their users, and better collaboration within and between teams.

What next?

We’re really happy about what we’ve achieved so far, but this is only the start. As #VerifyLocal progresses and local authorities start to develop service prototypes, we’ll be using similar approaches to introduce the different user research techniques that will be required.

For me, this has been a fantastic opportunity to work with local government colleagues from across the country, and shows that this sort of collaboration not only delivers short-term project objectives, but can have a real positive impact on how we work across government.

You can follow the progress of both pilots, find common assets and see the full findings of the user research on the Local Digital Coalition site.

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