We’re coming to the end of our internal beta phase and preparing for the public launch of the Members service on beta.parliament.uk. I thought now would be a good time to recap a couple of things we've learned from user research during this period.
We've built on the work done in the discovery and alpha phases. The user research team has expanded from one to seven. We've got our usability lab up and running. And we've been using a variety of research methods to answer questions. Since October, we've done:
- 24 usability lab sessions
- 7 face to face interviews with Members
- 9 phone interviews with constituency staff
- 5 card sorts and interview sessions
- 15 guerrilla interviews
We also have about 20 sessions of remote testing lined up for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
There were a lot of insights generated over the rounds of research. Some are already out of date as we've changed our prototypes. Others aren’t in scope for the first iteration of the Members page. So I'm going to choose two issues to focus on. The first is the research we done around finding an MP and the other is contacting an MP.
Finding and contacting a MP came out as two very high level user needs from the discovery work. But as with many things in Parliament, it's quite complicated.
Contact an MP
To start with, let's look at how the public want to contact MPs. In the first instance, people want to contact their MP by email. Phone, letter or face to face at surgeries also come up. People felt there were different levels of importance or urgency when using the different methods. They would pick the one they felt suited their question. Professionals such as journalists or lobbyists would want to have everything. They would often start with a phone call and follow up with an email.
Members and their staff
Members want to be approachable but also want to communicate that it's difficult to reply to every message.
Members' staff told us that surgery details shouldn't be listed for security reasons. Most MPs' offices use a case working system to help prioritise the work. They also told us that they often point people to other organisations who were better placed to help. Members' staff often have to ask people to confirm their address because they forget to include it.
We put a lot of thought in to user journeys on the website. We tried several different things to validate an address. One was a postcode checker, but this didn't make sense if people had already searched for their MP by a postcode. Another suggestion was to make the email address appear after the user ticked a checkbox or expanded a section. This felt like too much of a barrier. So for now we've settled on a warning and then displaying the email address.
Who to contact
The Parliamentary Standards Commission created a job description for an MP but their work is varied. It generally says that MPs have a duty to the UK as a nation and to their local constituents.
So an issue that a council's responsible for could be covered by an MP if it's considered an issue by a local constituent.
We’re currently working with Joe from the content team to create a page about who to contact. We tested the text to clarify who takes responsibility for different issues. It could be MPs, Citizen Advice Bureaus, Government, local councils, ombudsmen, MEPs or the responsibility of devolved assemblies. The text is quite problematic but we're still working on it.
Find an MP
We know 61% of people are landing directly on MP's page from search engines. Most people know the name of their MP. If they didn't, they would search the name of their constituency they lived in, if they knew it. There is also some confusion about what constituency means. But people are also using search queries like "who is my MP?". When we had a search box on the list of MPs people would want to put in their postcode.
This is just the beginning
This is a sliver of the research happening on Members pages. There are many more findings so if you're interested please get in touch and we'd be happy to go into more depth.