Lessons learned mapping a life event journey

There are key times in people’s lives where they experience a major change or transition which we call life events. These can be having a baby, starting a business or becoming a carer. As they travel through these life events, people are more likely to interact with multiple services, agencies and levels of government.

A DTA staff member points to a journey map.
Caption: Life event journey mapping is a great way to connect and communicate complex research findings.

Life events are a useful lens for understanding the relationships between different services and identifying opportunities that span government agencies and services.

We call the description of a life event, from the trigger to the outcome, a 'life event journey'. Mapping life event journeys is a useful way to connect and communicate findings from research. For more information on how we map life events, have a look at our blog 'How to easily and consistently map life event journeys'.

The GovX team has recently reflected on our experiences mapping life event journeys. Here are 5 of the lessons we have learned so far.

1. There are many ways to scope and focus research on a life event

A life event can be as broad as becoming a carer or as focused as caring for a child with a disability as they transition to adulthood. The scope will vary based on your circumstances and the problem you are trying to solve. A broader focus is useful for understanding the wider context and a narrow focus makes it easier to collect targeted findings.

There are different ways to define the scope of a journey. You could narrow the focus according to user groups, circumstances, goals or triggers. For example, if you were mapping looking for work you could focus on young people transitioning from education to employment.

2. Centre your life event journey around a transition or change

People's need to access services and support is generally higher during a period of change. This could involve interacting with multiple services, agencies and levels of government.

Centring the journey around the change helps to clarify how people interact with government and non-government services to reach their outcome. Once the change is defined, it is easier to identify the trigger — or multiple triggers — for that change and the goals or outcomes.

For example, when mapping the 'Retirement Years' journey, we found it difficult to decide where the journey ended. Reframing it as 'Transitioning to Retirement', we found it easier to connect and present our findings.

3. Before speaking to real people everything on your map is an assumption

We can try and piece together a journey map as best we can using our own knowledge, experiences or the experiences of people we know. No two people’s experience of a life event is the same. Speaking to real people allows us to understand the complexity and variance in people’s journeys.

It is handy to create your journey model using a medium where it is easy to move things around. This lets you quickly re-organise and add things as your learnings grow.

Near the end of your research, it is tempting to keep your high-level stages intact — especially when you have all your learnings neatly organised underneath them. But it is important to be open to changing and evolving your model to better represent what you have heard from people. The challenge is not to fit people’s experiences to your model but to create a model that communicates the complexity and variance in people's experiences.

4. It takes a lot of time and effort to create a journey map.

Have you had a request to complete a journey map — or any other artifact — in a few days?

A journey map is only 1 potential output from weeks of collecting findings from desktop research and speaking to users, agencies, non-government organisations, and/or third parties. Its value is not the artifact itself but the findings it communicates.

The stages should be formed based on the experience of real people, using the language that they use. For us this means spending a lot of time huddled around a whiteboard or wall, moving things around and crossing things out until we feel we have a close representation to the experiences of the people we spoke to.

The journey map should also evolve and change to reflect the changes in people, services and environment. It is useful to regularly review your journey map and update as your knowledge grows.

5. Don't be afraid to look at complex issues

When designing services, it's easy to just map the 'happy path', or what we expect people to do when interacting with government. It's easier to design for this rather than the edge cases or designing for when things don't go as expected.

The problem is in real life there are many paths, some more common than others. As humans we do unexpected things: taking steps out of order, or skipping necessary steps and assuming how things will work based on what we heard from a friend. Speaking to people with complex needs and experiences can provide essential findings on what happens when services do not work.

Mapping life event journeys is a useful way to identify opportunities for federal, state and local governments to work together. It is not just about creating new things — it is about understanding how we can connect what we do and reduce duplication so people can have a simple and consistent experience with government.

Share with us

Do you have some lessons learned from journey mapping that you would like to share? Join the conversation in our online life event communities by emailing govx@dta.gov.au.