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User-centred design: demonstrating the value

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One of the five personas, describing their tasks and challenges
One of the five personas, based around the tasks they perform in the team

I work in the Customer Experience Design (CXD) team in PDS. It’s our job to focus on understanding UK Parliament’s customers so that we can design great digital experiences that meet their needs. 

Our team is made up of service designers, interactions designers, performance analysts, product managers and user researchers, which includes me.  

Help Parliament make smarter use of data

Last year, we came across an exciting yet slightly daunting opportunity. We were asked if we could help the UK Parliament’s Participation team make smarter use of their data.  

The team told us how they wanted to have a better understanding of the data they collect, and how to get better insights from it. If they could accurately see what data they had and where the gaps were, they could improve data gathering. They could then use this to understand how people interact with Parliament and design and deliver better services for the public. 

Our CXD team follows the user-centred design approach. It’s an iterative framework for designing products and services, based on understanding the people that use them (the users) and involving them throughout the development process 

This would be the first time our colleagues in the Participation team would experience how this approach works for a project in Parliament. Service design is quite a new discipline in the CXD team, so this was the first project of its kind for us as well. 

Reaching out to the public 

The Participation team seeks to open Parliament to the public, encouraging people to get involved and empowering citizens to have a voice.  

Activities range from school outreach visits and teacher training to digital engagement including social media posts, engaging the public with parliamentary debates, online newsletters, and tours of the Houses of Parliament.  

It’s a wide-ranging brief. All these services result in many ways of interacting with the public, and that means a lot of data is gathered.  

Various members of the team use this data (let’s call them the users) to help them gain insights, such as: 

  • who visits Parliament 
  • who’s made contact to ask about a debate in the Commons 
  • which schools have been visited 
  • who subscribes to the team’s newsletters and resources, and
  • who has been involved in events such as UK Parliament Week.   

What problems did we need to uncover? 

The Participation team knew that the data wasn't providing the insights they needed, but they were not sure why. 

Because of GDPR, there are strict regulations on what data we can hold and how we can use it, store it and, protect it.  

The project required our service designers Aoife and Bunsi to map out all the systems and data processes currently in place, and I joined later as the user researcher for the project. My task was to research the experience of our users and involve the Participation team in the user-centred design approach. 

Involving the Participation team in this way helped to ensure that everyone understood the problems that users were having and were better equipped to think about opportunities to make things better. 

Participation team at work at a desk analysing the data
The whole team took part in analysing the data, they surprised and delighted me as they loved doing it

Making sure the process didn't feel intimidating 

To make this collaboration work, we wanted to help our Participation colleagues immerse themselves in user-centred design and understand the benefits and value of working in this way. 

As we were in the discovery phase, our first goal was to gather as much information about the current state of things as possible. We were lucky to have an enthusiastic bunch of people open to new methods and approaches and keen to get stuck in. 

Whilst the service designers and performance analysts busily mapped out the existing data flows and looked for answers to many questions, my job was to find out the issues the users were having.  

Digging deep to understand our users 

We held a workshop to explore who we thought the users are, using personas. A persona is an archetype of a user to help us understand their needs, experiences, behaviours and goals. 

We created five task-based proto-persona types, such as ‘users who use data for planning’ and ‘users who collect data’.  

These proto-personas gave us a starting point to test hypotheses about our users and identify gaps in our knowledge. The next phase was for me to talk to the users and validate or debunk these assumptions.  

Instead of inviting them to a room, I wanted to interview them where they worked, so I found myself talking to people at one of Parliament’s gift shops, at the Palace, and in the education centre. The whole team then took part in analysing the data. 

Using evidence not assumptions 

Using the insights from this analysis, I created more detailed representations of different users and the tasks they perform.  

The collaborative way we analysed user interviews not only accelerated the process but helped the Participation team understand how user researchers distil large quantities of qualitative data.  

It demonstrated the value of doing this kind of research, namely why it is important to gather real data rather than go with assumptions. The team now feels that they can make evidence-based decisions as they have the user research to guide them.  

Quite a journey and it’s not finished yet 

For our CXD team, this has been an exciting and educational experience as we set out to establish how service design and user research disciplines work together.  

As with any project, we take an iterative approach; learn from our experiences and continue to refine our ways of working.

What’s next for the Participation data project? 

Since finishing this phase of the project, the team has shared findings with the wider Participation team and is planning the next phase 

I am about to start follow-up research to support the Participation team to ensure that they have the evidence required to move forward to realise their vision for Data Strategy to 2025. This sets out their ambition to engage people with Parliament, encouraging the public to participate on things that matter most to them, wherever they are in the UK.

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