What users want from research briefings

Briefing paper from the Commons Library

We recently completed a short discovery on research briefings. Our work focused on the reports produced by the Commons Library which are available on the research briefings site and the Commons Library blog. We also made sure we studied all other sources of Parliamentary briefings.

What we did

There are a few aims of user research during a discovery phase we wanted to achieve.

To do this research, we started with a proto-persona workshop with library researchers, a business partner, and representatives from the design and product teams. Our business partners are a liaison point between PDS and the Houses.

We divided users into contributors and consumers and whether they interact with lots of reports, or a few. We grouped these into persona types. Workshop participants then voted on the personas they wanted to focus on in discovery.

We created the personas by using the stakeholders' assumptions about the needs and frustrations of users.

We interviewed 33 representatives from each of the following groups to validate our assumptions:

  • academics
  • lobbyists
  • researchers/academics
  • MPs and MPs’ staff
  • constituency caseworkers
  • members of the public
  • library/committee staff

We asked these representatives how they use research briefings using a range of methods including phone and face-to-face interviews as well as guerilla research methods.

What we learned

We used collaborative analysis workshops for each persona type, comparing the findings with our assumptions from the proto-persona workshops. We then created research validated personas, identifying needs and challenges for each persona type.

Users found it difficult to search for research briefings

The interviews reflect the Google Analytics data suggesting a difficult to navigate website and frustration over the poor search function. Users spoke of extensive workarounds, custom alerts, and integrated APIs to find the briefings they were interested in.

Users want to share research briefings easily

A need to share is also common to our users. This includes citing briefings in their own reports, sharing extracts with colleagues or giving information to MPs as part of the library enquiry service.

Users want to print research briefings easily

Printing is a need for all. However technical a user may be we learned there was always a need to print. Users discussed highlighting sections, finding paper copies easier to read and annotating briefings to help construct their own arguments.

Users want to read research briefings on any device they want

All our user groups spoke of a need to read briefings on the move. MPs in particular. Although MPs may need briefings printed for the chamber, very few wish to carry around large printed documents with them as they travel to and from Westminster and their constituency.

The challenges

We tried to do a lot in a short space of time and probably looked at too many different personas. In hindsight, we could have prioritised the personas differently. In future discoveries, I would limit the number of personas we’re looking at to a maximum of six when working with short deadlines.

That said, we'd still have as many questions at the end of discovery than at the beginning regardless of the number of personas. That's part and parcel of why this phase is so important. It's good to have questions to answer through prototypes in an alpha stage (provided you can overcome any apprehension about whether you ‘know enough’ to start designing).

We’ll need to work with teams to make sure there’s a common understanding about what user research can achieve in a discovery phase. Working in an agile way, we’ll continue to ‘discover needs’ whether we’re in discovery, alpha or beta stages of development. All the disciplines will need to continue to work together in all the stages of development and as we move between phases.

The discovery report will now inform whether we take research briefings into the alpha stage of development.

For more information email Dana Demin

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