What I learnt from user research training

On 13 and 14 August 2015 I attended an introduction to user research. It was held at the offices of the Government Digital Service in London and run by John Waterworth.

I learnt that user research is:

  • not a dark art practised by a few magicians
  • a way to replay and capture user’s memories
  • crucial to (re)developing government services

At some point I’ll try and turn the following into a proper blog post, but for now, here are some quotes I noted down during the training:

  • Theres never anything you need to do before you start listening to people
  • We need to know what people think about things and where they’ll get stuck
  • Go and look in more detail where things are wrong
  • In government, we must care about [people who struggle with digital services]
  • Research is pointless if you don’t share it, eg “Heres what we learnt from users”
  • Blog a lot about what you find – talk openly
  • “Create insights that travel thru an organisation” – James Nel
  • User research doesn’t have to be expensive
    • Doing it will save your project time and money
  • If user research is difficult to watch, imagine what its like for your user
  • User’s ability changes over time, eg when they get older
  • Doing assisted digital research makes services as simple as possible
  • User research can change policy
  • Its not an I.T. system, its a service
  • The more people you speak to, the more you learn
  • The most important thing is to be human – start gently, start friendly
  • It can get emotional sometimes, as often you’re the 1st person thats ever listened to a user
  • Avoid talking about yourself
  • Avoid complex questions
  • When writing up your findings, do it from the user’s point of view

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye

There’s a sad sort of clanging
From the clock in the hall
And the bells in the steeple, too

I’m one of the Government Digital Service (GDS) children.
I look up to the calm, collected leader that is Mike Bracken.
And today, Monday 3 August 2015, I’m sad to hear our leader is leaving.
Note: I type “our leader” even though I no longer directly work for GDS.

Not many leaders would:
* tweet you on a Saturday morning asking if theres anything they could do to help
* entertain you in several 1-2-1 meetings whilst listening to crazy notions
* greet you with a handshake and smile at every event they see you at

Dunno what else to type, except that I wish our leader all the best.

I flit, I float
I fleetly flee, I fly

Civil service values

I’m typing this on a Sunday evening.

2 days ago I had an interesting exchange on Twitter.

It revolved around freedom of information (FoI) requests made to the Cabinet Office.

I don’t regret much in my life. But some of my tweets were a little close to the bone.

So I thought I’d review my understanding of the civil service values.

They require me to be:

  • honest
  • objective
  • impartial

and to do everything with integrity.

I am honest, maybe too much so sometimes. Often I say/type what I know to be true, before checking I should. This might be an unconscious attempt to gain favour.

I am mostly objective. I avoid subject statements. Where there is data to back me up, I use it.

Being impartial I find easy. I don’t discuss my political views in public. I avoid saying/typing things that might go against government policy.

Now. Integrity. Hmmmm. To me this means means being selfless. I put the interests of the public above my own.

Well, thats all I’ve got for now.

I’m off to read the civil service code and see if I’m right.

Week notes – 2015 week 17

These week notes cover the period Monday 20 April to Sunday 26 April 2015

  1. Caught up with data scientist in Singapore who is working on Bank of England data visualisation competition
    1. Thinking about putting a plan together for similar government visualisation project
  2. Updated @new_blog_posts automation
  3. Worked on data.gov.uk/data-request
    1. Mainly focused on Ministry of Justice (MOJ) as they have the highest number of requests
    2. Next week will look at
      1. Home Office
      2. Ministry of Defence
      3. Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS)
    3. received some good feedback
  4. Band A catchup with @AntonioAcunaR and @JemmaVenables (@BuckleyOllie and @kittyvonbertele were away)
    1. Main topics were succession planning for team members who plan to move on
    2. and focusing on quantifying user needs for everything we do
  5. Discussed data.gov.uk dashboard with @danking82 and @1jh
  6. Looked at directors (executive and non-executive) declarations of directorships/trusteeships/etc and also financial investments over an arbitrary amount (£20,000 up to 2013-14)
  7. Had 1-2-1s with @lizetta and @sukiboora, focusing on
    1. data.gov.uk/data-request
    2. transparency team “things we want to do” in the next Parliament
  8. Went to the departments of business, innovation and skills (BIS) show & tell of their digital skills pilot study with LinkedIn
  9. Met with transparency practitioners in the MOJ and discussed:
    1. dashboard for MOJ on data.gov.uk + link to Excel spreadsheet – does this work?
    2. advice on anonymisation, even if its just “who to go to” (preferably free advice)
      1. much of MOJ’s data is personal, so this needs to be solid
    3. Sector Panels – need to make them more valuable to internal audience
      1. Having external people you can trust is useful – @JeniT was mentioned
  10. Met with DCMS transparency practitioner
    1. Discussed issues with data.gov.uk duplicate or ambiguous publisher names
    2. Might speak about the value of #opendata at next museum forum
  11. Went to #cmgrLDN meet-up to learn about setting and measuring community metrics
  12. ‘Digital Yurt’ with @MGreenhalgh523, @PollyGannaway and @thomtownsend
    1. Brainstormed some things to present to @_OpenP > https://flic.kr/s/aHskax9S1M
  13. Learnt how to do lab based user research using ukgovcamp.com as a test case
    1. used the Government Digital Service (GDS) user research studio
    2. valuable learning for Transparency Election briefing submission on next steps for data.gov.uk
  14. Photography club with @JanetHughes and @annkempster from GDS > https://flic.kr/s/aHsk9RWDoH
  15. GDS ‘Griffins’ softball team battling practice

Tweeted this blog post at 17:56 on 25 April 2015

Hacking @UKParliament, inspired by @DigiDemocracyUK and @Meg_HillierMP

Setup by the speaker of the House of Commons, the Commission on Digital Democracy investigated the opportunities digital technology can bring for parliamentary democracy in the UK. It reported on 26 January 2015. A debate was then held on 10 March 2015. Meg Hiller MP was the star of the show.

I watched the entire thing and was inspired. So I did a hack: @CyberChamber

CyberChamber Twitter profile page

CyberChamber Twitter profile page

I could have just followed @UKParliament, @HouseofCommons and @UKHouseofLords. But I like raw, open data and an intellectual challenge. Plus small, bit sized chucks of output via Twitter.

Although Twitter might not be your channel of choice, it’s where I get my news. More importantly it’s where I learn, share, comment and engage with others.

So I repurposed the @new_blog_post hack I did last year, which tweets details of new post posts published on blog.gov.uk. You can read how I did this here.

@CyberChamber is basically the same thing, but using parliament.uk RSS feeds

Have a look at the output and let me know how to improve the format of the tweets, please.

I noticed there is a lot of duplication between feeds, so need to sort that out.

The skeleton of a good #PublicSector #hackday / #hackathon

I’ve been to (and organised) enough hackdays and hackthons, that I can spot a good one.

The best ones have all:

  • done research on the problem they’re trying to solve
  • formed this into a challenge for hackers
  • openly blogged about the above
  • engaged with critics
  • made changes if necessary
  • got any required data into a useable format
  • booked an accessible venue
  • arranged solid wi-fi
  • ordered catering based on hackers dietary requirements
  • facilitated the day very well
  • documented the day and outputs
  • made sure outputs are openly licensed
  • awarded prizes to runners up
  • awarded ongoing development resources to the winner

What have a missed? Can you think of anything else?

The Church of #LocalGov change

This is an unedited ramble with a side order of hero worship.

So I’ve had a restless night. I woke from a dream where I escaped from an American religious cult. One of the 1st things that came to mind was, “that’s the public sector”.

I’ve devoted 7 years of my life to public and civil service. Not long in the grand scheme of things. Certainly not as long as the 15 odd years I meandered through financial services.

I see this dream as a reminder that I’m at a crossroads. I have an idea that’s currently the number 1 local government makers (@LGMakers) project. But I’m scared to take the leap and do it.

I could do what I normal do and delegate it. Package my idea, find it a home and wave it goodbye. But I like this idea. I really like this idea.

It’s an attempt to instil and build digital capability in the public sector. Put differently it’s an attempt to change a perceived culture. A culture where people aren’t equipped with the skills to listen to users. Where colleagues don’t know how to build prototypes. Where we can’t use them to inspire and procure change.

In affect I want to replay the early days the of the Government Digital Service (GDS). But in many public sector organisations simultaneously.

Rather than dreaming anymore, it feels like time to research. Who are the key players in the public sector that also want to do something similar? More importantly who is currently trying and succeeding (or failing).

One person who always gets my attention is Ben Welby. To sum him up in 3 words; moral, angry, football. Moral because he is a devote follower of Jesus. Angry because he is frustrated with the pace of change. Football because he seems to place Bradford City Football Club over everything but his wife and the afore mention monotheistic deity.

When people in GDS want direction on issues related to local government, they turn to Ben. You only have to read his blog posts to understand why. Unlike mine they are objective. He takes arguments apart and lays them out. He commands a position of respect for doing so, whether he realises it or not.

If I was asked to pick the leader of the Church of local government change, it would be Ben.

Okay, hero worship done.

Now whats for breakfast?