In the different areas I’ve worked - I’m from the Commons Library, but have spent some time in the Commons Committee Office – we’ve never excelled at getting good, quick feedback from Members or their staff.
We all know MPs and Lords are massively busy people and we’re cautious about stealing their time. We also care about the quality of the research we do. We labour over detail and the design so it's statistically valid and rigorously defendable.
In short – we’re scared of quick and dirty.
And so, standing in Portcullis House, I spent an afternoon last week looking for research assistants. It was a hot day. I’d been for a run at lunchtime. I was getting a bit sweaty. At my side Ganesh was keeping cool and we were looking for people to ask about our paper prototype for Web Alpha. The prototype helped people identify MPs and Lords who’d been active in a chosen policy area. It linked issues people care about to Parliamentary activity. We wanted some quick feedback.
There were lots people that looked like MP’s research staff sitting round - drinking teas and coffees, taking notes, tapping on phones. We made a first approach…
The research assistant, sat by the Adjournment, effuses willingness but is expecting her MP to arrive any second and send her on an errand.
Okay, people are pretty busy here, but extremely keen to help. Very reassuring. We proceed.
…In between volunteers I found time to reflect on the month spent in PDS so far. As I mentioned, I’m from the House of Commons Library but at the moment I am spending time with the Web Alpha Team. Helping out using some of the business knowledge I’ve gathered in my 14 years in a few different bits of the Commons. I’m also making use of (more and more) people I know in both Houses to get quick responses to questions about procedure, or grab a quick fifteen minutes to help with testing, or even to just gauge the mood on an idea.
At the same time I’m also learning a lot from my new PDS colleagues. Gathering research from users, learning techniques for arranging that research and identifying themes within it. Then prioritising and stripping down these ideas to build and test lean prototypes through phases of iteration.
Our afternoon ended patrolling the Committee Floor in Portcullis House, eyes aware for research assistant passes.
We spoke to some very helpful people that afternoon. The feedback given on the prototype was detailed and insightful. The needs of Members and their staff can be particular. They might not have the time to learn about complex tools to help them do what they need but the website should be able to help them.
We also found that there’s a very keen and willing bunch of people ready to help with our work and offer their feedback quickly.
Lords’ and Members’ staff want to get involved. We’ve just got to get out and speak to them.