User research training at GDS

How I ended up on this course

As the council is a signatory of the Local Digital Declaration we were offered free user research training provided by the GDS.

It’s not just the fact that it was free, it’s also something we are very keen to do. We don’t have our own user research team, but with so much development on the go, we know we simply have to give user research more space in our working agenda.

I was not alone

Councils were offered 2 spaces each, so I didn’t have to trek all that way by myself but had my lovely colleague Pauline with me.

Pauline and Maria at GDS Academy

Some of the things that I learned

Here’s some things I learned over the 3 day training session.

User research helps teams understand how people use a service

It helps teams understand how users interpret and interact with a service. It helps teams build the right thing.

User research is needs, market research is wants

Market research tends to be about what people want or aspire to and is often a big project. User research is not what people want, but what they need and is an iterative approach.

User research is external, business analysis is internal

Business analysis also helps to create a service, but the focus is more internal – making sure business processes meet business needs.  User research is from the perspective of the user actually using that service – helping a team to create a service that meets user needs.

User research is powerful

Telling stories about people is the most powerful thing you can do.

Pete Gale

Pete Gale, our instructor, emphasised that telling stories about people is very powerful.  This is connected to transportation theory which holds that narrative persuasion – the individual stories you tell about real people – will stay in people’s minds and build empathy over time.

Analytical persuasion is your huge trello board with loads of stuff on it, and narrative persuasion is your real stories from real people that you get from user research.

Pete Gale (not exactly word for word!)

The practical stuff

We spent a lot of day 2 and 3 on the practicalities of user research and actually having a go ourselves.

We had 2 different scenarios and we worked up a research plan for both of these. On day 2 we practised an in-depth interview and on day 3 we practised a usability test.

You don’t need loads of people

User research is qualitative and you do not need lots of people to do it. In a usability study, 5 or 6 users is enough.

Note taking is hard!

For both of these scenarios we were all shocked at just how difficult it is to do good note taking. I think we were all expecting that role to be the easiest, but oh how wrong we were!

GDS and post-it notes

It’s all true. GDS is a bit obsessed with post-it notes. They are everywhere! And we did our best to contribute to the theme during our time there…

GDS Academy room 2 filled with post-it notes

Next steps

  1. Have a mock feedback session with the team, based on the usability test we carried out. Although it was a training exercise, the service we tested was actually part of our bins service at Bracknell Forest – so as well as being a worthwhile practise feedback session, there is actually some real data here worth sharing.
  2. Create a research plan for our new dementia section (recently created from its lowly origins as a 40 page pdf) and then go forth and test with real users.
  3. Start building in user research as an iterative approach as we begin work on the new build of our public website.

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