https://pds.blog.parliament.uk/2019/09/19/improving-uk-parliaments-services-through-user-research/

Improving Parliament's services through user research

The organisational structure of Parliament is defined by disciplines and capabilities like most large companies. The journey users take, however, does not necessarily track neatly to departmental lines such as finance, communications, HR and so on. 

Users probably need different things from different teams. This means their journey can have some bumps along the way. There could be many reasons for these bumps. Poor communication between departments, systems that don’t work with each other or policies that are inward-facing and don’t take external audiences into consideration. 

Forming clubs around services 

PDS has set up informal groups around services to reduce these bumps. We bring people from different teams together in new setups, clubs. Club members have one thing in common: helping users achieve a goal. The clubs use methods and principles of user-centred design (UCD). UCD considers the needs of users at every stage of work. 

We have three broad objectives that this project is driving towards: 

  • Increase UCD capability across teams in Parliament 
  • Demonstrate the value of taking a UCD/service-centric approach 
  • Build sustainable communities around things users are trying to achieve 

So far, we have four clubs and we are looking to introduce more soon. Clubs are organised around user goals. Many goals have on or offline touchpoints with PDS such as “I need to fix a device” or “I need to use technology safely”. Most end-to-end services transcend departments, so we need to expand the range of cross-cutting clubs. For example, we have one club that works across PDS and the Commons which looks at the publishing process behind committee reports. 

Mapping our assumptions about users 

In a previous post we talked about how the clubs started by mapping their hypotheses with journey maps. This documented assumptions about their user experience. It also built a shared understanding of what that experience was like. 

Each club then worked with a user researcher to develop a research plan to validate its assumptions. The clubs used qualitative and quantitative research methods to do this – mostly interviews with end users and stakeholders, but also reviewing sources of information such as the ticket logs from our IT support system. 

Building confidence and evidence to make change 

Research helped these clubs identify pain points for users. It also helped prioritise areas for further investigation and improvement.   

One of the clubs is developing a proposal to improve the process for giving out loan equipment when a laptop breaks. Another is improving the workflow and templates behind publishing some information online. This is just a slice of the good work that is happening. 

Most importantly clubs encouraged colleagues to think differently about their users. In going out and talking to groups of people directly, we tested ideas about user experiences. Sometimes assumptions turned out to be true. In other cases colleagues gained a fresh perspective. 

Our user researchers supported colleagues to do research and adhere to best practice. It was important that the whole club was involved and heard what users were doing and thinking. This wouldn’t have been possible without the willingness of club members to try something new.

The clubs aren't a one-way street for UCD best practice. They involve everyone bringing the techniques and skills from their disciplines, whether as business analysts, customer managers, engineers or data architects.

The clubs have given members the confidence and evidence to propose change to senior management. In some cases, to quickly make changes themselves because they had the right mix of colleagues, skills and knowledge in the room. 

Sometimes improving things for users can mean small, low-effort changes, but we need to work together to know the changes are going to make a difference. 

Miranda Olivier-Wright, Head of Web and Publications Unit (Publish a report club)

Mapping the whole process was really eye-opening and potential ways to streamline became obvious. We identified who we needed to speak to and a few members of ‘club’ ran interviews with people from both the authoring and publishing sides. We came away with a clear idea of how we could develop the tools to help people using them on a daily basis, and discovered we could make some real improvements through better communication straight away.

What comes next? 

We are in the process of learning from our clubs – what has worked, what could be improved, and what they would do differently in the future. We want to set up more clubs around other service areas in Parliament, especially ones that cut across different departments and teams, and not just PDS.

If you are interested in being involved in a club or would like to set one up in your area of work, contact us at servicedesignchange@parliament.uk

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