Getting support for user research

The better you understand your users, the more likely you are to design and build a service that works for them.  

User research is most effective when it's funded from Discovery and continues for the life of the service. Doing it only in Discovery or once you’ve built something will give you a limited understanding of users.


Meeting the Digital Service Standard

You must do user research when designing your service as part of meeting the following criteria:

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.

Show the value of doing user research as a team

Doing user research as a team develops:

  • empathy with users
  • in-depth understanding about what you need to build
  • understanding about the relationship between the questions asked and the research findings

For these reasons, don’t outsource user research or only have one team member who does all the research.

It’s especially important in the Discovery stage to talk to real users. This helps you and your team build empathy from the start.

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 research underpins the whole service design and delivery process.

By conducting user research we reduce the risk and we increase the certainty that the product will be a success as design decisions are based on user needs.

Explain the problem

Existing research can provide evidence that there is a need for a new or improved service. Use this to draft problem statements.

Make these the start of your pitch.

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 throughout the process
  • 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 to 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 kick 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
  • conducting user research 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

Seek support for both qualitative and quantitative research.

Quantitative research gives you a limited view of who the users are and what they need.

Start the Discovery stage with qualitative research, such as in-depth interviews with users. You can use quantitative research to help you work out which groups of users you should talk to.

Getting extra support

Sometimes you may have to start work without access to a full-time user researcher. Make it a priority to get this team member as soon as you can.

There may be some things you can 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 build empathy with the users of your service and 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 questions were asked during research 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 understand your users needs and know you are building the right thing.