GDS publishes new user research guides in Service Manual

Written by Rebecca Hill on 1 March 2017 in News
News

The Government Digital Service has published six new user research methods guides in its Service Manual.

People using a screen

New user research guides have been published as part of efforts to create a basic toolkit for government staff - Photo credit: Pexels

User research is a crucial part of the government’s work in creating digital services, and involves understanding the way users behave and interact with services, along with their needs and motivations.

There are a number of methods used in user research, and the guides aim to cover the most common ones as part of efforts to create a basic toolkit for user researchers in government.

The new guides cover: research questions; in-depth interviews; pop-up, or short and informal, research; experience maps, which provide a visual representation of users’ needs over time; and moderated usability testing, where researchers watch users carrying out tasks using the service.

Each guide sets out the purpose of the user research method, when that method should be used and explains when this will be needed during service assessments as part of meeting the requirements in the Digital Service Standard.


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The guides provide a set of steps for people to follow when using that method, covering planning, designing and doing that particular element of the research.

There are also links to other resources, for instance on what informed consent is, how to recruit participants and how to generate and share user research questions.

The guide on moderated usability testing also has a section on testing with personal data, which includes information on data security as well as guidance on how to use dummy data if it isn’t possible to ask participants to use their own data.

According to John Waterworth, head of the user research community at GDS, the next step will be to update existing guides, which were published last year, and then publish more methods guides for user research.

GDS is also working to define the user research job family to help the government get people with the right qualifications into the relevant jobs, make the entry points more consistent and give staff a clear career path.

This is part of wider efforts to agree on a defined set of job family descriptions for the whole of the digital, data and technology profession, which are due for publication at the end of the month.

GDS updated the Service Manual towards the end of 2016, aiming to cut out duplicated content, standardise the language and make navigation easier.

It also moved the manual off GitHub – which some commentators have noted will make it harder to track any changes made to the document – and it now focuses more directly on meeting the Digital Service Standard.

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