Getting support for user research
How to show the value of user research and get support in your agency.
The better you understand your users, the more likely you are to design and build a service that works for them.
User research should be funded as part of the service’s whole life: not just in Discovery or once you’ve built something.
Everyone in the team needs to understand why user research is important. Do the user research yourself — don’t outsource it.
Meeting the Digital Service Standard
You must do user research when designing your service as part of meeting the following criteria:
- Criteria 1: Understand user needs
- Criteria 3: Agile and user-centred process
- Criteria 9: Make it accessible
- Criteria 10: Test the service
- Criteria 12: Don’t forget the non-digital experience
- Criteria 13: Encourage everyone to use the digital service
You may have to explain how you did this in your service assessments.
The Digital Service Standard guides teams to build services that are simpler, clearer and faster.
How to get buy-in for user research
Even if you understand the value of user research you may need to convince others.
Getting support to stand up a proper multidisciplinary team with a full-time user researcher can be hard.
Create a pitch
To start work on a new service, or improve an existing one, you may need to explain the value of user research in your pitch.
Make it clear that you can’t build a service that will meet user needs unless you can research with users through the whole product lifecycle.
Identify the problem
As part of preparing a pitch, you should already have some initial information that shows a real need for a new or improved service.
You may have this research from work on another service. It may have been informed by service analytics or direct feedback from users through your agency’s usual feedback channels.
Make this the start of your pitch. Be confident and clearly explain the problem statement.
Work out the cost of the need
Quantitative sources like website analytics can help you discover the need for building or improving a service. They can also help you work out a cost to government for not improving a service. These should be your starting point — you’ll use qualitative techniques to find the real problems.
There are resources that can help you calculate the return on investment of user experience and prove the value of good user experience.
Get support for the pitch
You can ask champions and digital leaders in your agency to help you. You can find these champions by talking to other teams that are following the service design and delivery process. They may have got started through the support of an influential person in your agency.
You can use other agencies’ Digital Service Standard assessment reports to show how user research is essential to building modern digital services.
It can be helpful to refer to case studies on how user research has improved live services.
One of the core principles of the Australian Public Service is a commitment to improve efficiency and performance.
Show your commitment with a team contract
At the outset of your project, it can be useful to formalise your commitment to user research in a 1-page team contract. This sets out, in plain English, what your team will build and how it will apply user research.
The digital leader in your agency who is responsible for the service should sign off on this contract before the team starts work. This will give the team confidence to keep talking to users to check they’re building the right thing.
Plan to research continually
To work in an agile way, service teams must be able to:
- update their understanding of users and their needs
- test new design ideas, content and features to see if they work well for all users
- understand problems users are having and how they might be resolved
This means doing user research in every iteration of every development stage — starting in Discovery and continuing through Live. Make sure your user research plan shows this.
Doing this means you can:
- save time by building only the things that you know your users need
- reduce risk by learning quickly whether the things you are building work well for users
- respond to changing user behaviour and feedback to continuously improve the service
Allow enough time for research
You'll be able to develop a clear user research plan after your product kicks off. In the meantime, you can still talk about how you will schedule user research.
Throughout each development stage, user researchers should be:
- part of the team
- running user research sessions at least every 2 weeks
Build research activities and analysis sessions into the team’s regular schedule, so everyone knows when they’re happening and can make time to take part.
It can take a long time to recruit users for research, so it’s important to get this work started early.
Qualitative and quantitative research
Make sure you have support to use more than just quantitative sources like website analytics and surveys.
Don’t rely only on quantitative sources. They only give you a very limited view of who the users are and what they need.
It’s important in the Discovery stage to start with qualitative research like in-depth interviews with users. You can use quantitative sources to help you work out which other kinds of users you should to talk to.
Encourage the whole team to value user research
When you set up a new service team, make sure everyone in the team understands why user research is important.
You must involve the team in research. This means everyone in the team does some user research through the whole design and delivery process. It’s not just the person in the user researcher role.
The user research guides will help you and your team understand what you need to do.
Sharing case studies on how user research helps teams can help people to understand why user research is important.
Getting extra support
Sometimes you may have to start work without having access to a full-time user researcher. You should make it a priority to get this resource as soon as you can.
There may be some things you may be able to do in the meantime, like pop-up research. But it’s always better to get help from an experienced user researcher.
GOV.UK has a useful blog on getting started with user research.
Don’t outsource user research
You and your team need to do user research so you properly understand what you need to build and that you are building the right thing.
You need to do the user research yourself so you have a better understanding of the relationship between what was asked and what was found.
It is especially important in the Discovery stage that you and your team talk to real users so you can build empathy.
Get help from other agency research teams
Your agency may have teams that you can engage with to support your user research. They may be able to help you recruit users for your research.
Some agencies have teams to make sure needs are met for users with disability or who speak different languages.
But don’t rely on other teams to do your research. Everyone on your team needs to engage with users. That way, you’ll know you are building the right thing.