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Tips for assessing support for digital services - user research

Catherine Obradovic, a GDS assessor, talks about what to look for when assessing support for digital services.

A picture of Catherine ObrabovicI've assessed the assisted digital support of nearly 50 digital services to make sure it meets the Digital Service Standard. There are common patterns in approaches to developing this support which can make the difference between a ‘pass’ and a ‘not pass’ for a service team.

So here’s some tips for assessors to know what to look out for and for service teams to know what’s expected. This blog is about what we look for when assessing user research for designing support.

Tips to consider during assessments

As part of assessments at every development phase, it’s vital for service teams to be able to talk about the user research they’ve done with people who can’t use the digital service independently.

1.  Does the service team understand what assisted digital is?

Some service teams start the discussion by talking about accessibility. Accessibility is important but it’s not assisted digital. Teams should have a good understanding of assisted digital principles from the very beginning of developing their digital service, so that it is fully integrated into design and all users are considered.

2.  Has the service team done user research before the assessment?

Talking about planning to do user research is not the same as having done it.

3.  Was the user research related to providing support?

Research should have been focused on identifying user needs for support. Usability testing of the on-screen service with people with low skills and access is not the same as researching user needs for support.

4.  Has the service team done user research for the specific digital service?

Service teams must talk about how they are proactively seeking users of their specific service to identify specific user needs, not just relying on generic landscape or departmental research to make assumptions.

If a service already exists and is being redesigned to meet the digital service standard, research based on the old way of doing things might be useful but it’s not sufficient on its own. The redesigned service should be simpler, clearer and faster to use so user research should be focused on identifying needs for support for the new service, not what people think about the old one.

5.  Has the service team identified and done user research with people with the lowest skills and access for that service?

A service team should show that they have done some digging to find users who have the lowest skills and access for their particular service. If the team has only used online methods such as an email or online survey to find users, they won’t have reached people who don’t or can’t use the internet (i.e. the people who need support). Speaking to people with low confidence is important - but their needs will be different from people who don’t have access or the skills to complete an online government transaction.

The right people might be tricky to find - they may not be people who would naturally put themselves forward for user research. So service teams should demonstrate that they have been where their users go and talked to people who already help your users (e.g. contact centres, charities, other government agencies, libraries, relevant events).

6.  Have they identified potential users of support, as well as existing users?

Sometimes transactions are completed on behalf of end users by paid intermediaries (eg agents, solicitors, accountants). If this is common for a particular service, the team should be able to talk about the research they’ve done to understand why users employ intermediaries. If this is because those users can’t use the digital service independently, the service team needs to show that they have identified user needs for support, in case users choose not to pay for intermediaries any more.

7.  Does the service team need to provide support for users?

Finally - not every digital service will have users who need support but:

  • service teams need to provide evidence of appropriate user research to demonstrate no need or show that their service does not need to provide support in line with GDS policy and;
  • low demand is still demand and no one should be excluded from using government services.

As an assessor, if you're satisfied that the service team has demonstrated that there's no need for support, that should be recorded as a ‘pass’ (not an exemption or N/A). This is because a) the team has met the policy and b) the scope and user base of a digital service can change during development, so you will need to confirm this is the case at each development stage.

For more information

There’s some guidance on how to do assisted digital user research and some blogs on the subject too, from the assisted digital team and the GDS user researchers.

We’ve been running briefings for self-certification assessors in government departments, and assessors across all disciplines have said they found it useful. If you’re a self-certification assessor and you’d like a briefing on how to assess support for users, please get in touch.

Part 2 - our next blog highlights what we look for when we assess the design of support for digital services.

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