Discovering processes and tools that can help research and user-centred design operations

August 10, 2020 by 2 Comments | Category Digital Scotland, Research, User-Centred Design

Blog by Daniel Migliorelli, User Research Lead, Digital Transformation Division.

Historically, User Research has focused more on its work with primary sources (for example running interviews or usability tests) than with secondary ones (analysing data produced as a result of previous research).

Although it’s common practice for Scottish Government and Digital, Data and Technology research professionals to do secondary research before planning for primary research, it often does not happen. This can be because:

  • the research discipline lacks maturity in some organisations
  • teams are new to user centred design (UCD) and perhaps do not value secondary research as much

This leads to extra risks and waste, as primary research does not build on existing data.

So far, there are no standardised secondary research processes or tools. This forces people to rely on their contacts and other people’s availability to find research. This is risky and makes doing secondary research harder for many. Researchers are then often driven into conducting more primary research in isolation. And this leads to research results that are:

  • basic
  • redundant
  • hyper-local
  • disconnected
  • less actionable for teams

It also means we miss the opportunity to map problems and findings as common to many or all public services and projects. This could lead to a more joined-up UCD approach and enable the reutilisation of services and components.

During coronavirus (Covid-19) these risks were put in the spotlight. For example, think about how we were required to create new services and communication pieces that responded to user needs? Those needs could be found and understood by:

a) conducting research activities with patients, their families or front line personnel (primary research) or
b) reutilising research data from past projects looking at similar services or communication pieces (secondary research).

But option (a may not have always been possible or ethical in a situation like coronavirus. At the same time, we needed to be working in a more user-centred way more than ever. Our teams, processes and tools are just not ready to take a different approach.

The lack of suitable processes and tools for reutilising user research and their poor distribution across organisations worked together to heighten risks.

What we’ve done so far

In response to this, our team has:

  • produced a series of prototypes to share research in the Covid-19 design community, testing and iterating them
  • created a research index to access original deliverables
  • engaged with teams across Scottish Government and other organisations building their own spaces and artefacts to share research findings
  • explored data sharing procedures needed to share research across teams, areas and organisations

Alpha and discovery

The urgent response to coronavirus forced us to jump into an alpha. And so far, through this alpha we’ve:

  • made low-level research data and insight from 2 projects available for re-use by other teams and organisations
  • classified, indexed and shared 62 pieces of research linked to projects for re-use
  • supported research and design teams from Scottish Government and the NHS to share and reuse research
  • understood what’s required to share research across organisations

However, in addition to this alpha, we’ve run some discovery research to understand and prioritise the problems to solve. We’ve focussed this research around some key user groups, including:

  • researchers
  • designers
  • transformation managers
  • service and product owners

And we’ve spoken to users across a range of seniorities, areas and organisations.

This research has given us a new understanding of the goals, needs, barriers, risks and opportunities for each group. We’ve developed an understanding that allows us to move from tactical and low-value quick-wins into a more strategic space. This will help us redefine how research is conducted and used across organisations, boosting UCD value and reducing the barriers to adopt it.

What’s next for us

We’re confident we’ll finish our discovery research round with plenty of insight to move forward. This will help us to:

  1. Inform a technology appraisal around cataloguing, indexing, finding, and re-using research, as well as sharing tools, formats and platforms.
  2. Work to improve and standardise UCD and agile training, principles, processes and strategies across organisations.
  3. Discover how to better impact policy design with evidence.

Help us to help you

If you own or know about existing user research that could be useful for teams working in coronavirus-related services, fill in this form.

We’re keen to know about a wide range of research topics, although we know coronavirus teams find research about digital inclusion, economic benefits and vulnerable people particularly helpful.

If you would like to know more, contact us by emailing or reach us in our DesignOps slack channel.

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