Conducting user research

Johanna Dench from the School Improvement Service recently made the brave step to speak to users to help develop the service. Here she shares her experience of user research.

I recently carried out some user research to help inform and shape the Council’s Learning, Skills and Employment Transformation Project. We wanted to speak with our local learning community to better understand what they are trying to do and how they’re trying to do it, in relation to the local education and training offer. What we got was a whole lot more!

Food for thought

“If you haven’t discovered you were wrong about something, you probably haven’t done it right” (Cabinet Office, 2015).

Whilst we all make assumptions about how a project should be shaped, user research is all about challenging those assumptions and not trying to validate them. The design of your research will be key to framing the conversation you end up having and how much you truly learn. Go into it with a mind-set of curious discovery; what you find out will more than likely make you rethink your approach.

Building relationships

User research is about more than just gaining insights, it’s also useful in helping to build and strengthen relationships. It’s about reaching out to people and taking an interest in their views. Ultimately we may be doing this to help improve services, but it has the added benefit of connecting with people – you shouldn’t underestimate how much people really appreciate you taking the time to listen!

A good can of worms

User research is really just the beginning and not a discrete activity. You have to follow-up on the insights you’ve gleaned and on any actions that arise from the research. This goes beyond sharing findings. You also need to:

  • maintain the dialogue you’ve started;
  • show how you have listened, through the future actions you take; and
  • pursue the leads and other strands of work that may well be generated from your initial research.

You’re opening a can of worms – but it’s a good one!