User Research – Why do it?

This is a post by Nicola McBain, from OSCR, the Scottish Charity Regulator

At OSCR we have a digital vision where the transactions that charities and the public need to carry out with us are all digital.

We are getting there, but still have someway to go.

My part of this journey is developing an online application for organisations wanting to apply for charitable status. Basically, we are moving away from a PDF form to a fully online application asking a wider range of questions, so the user journey is more effective for both the applicant and us!

So why undertake user research? Some people may think we could have just re-designed the application process ourselves; after all, we have been doing this for 10 years. Well yes, we could have, but would that really enable us to develop a truly improved application process? The answer, having undertaken user research, would be no!

By listening to our users, we have been able to challenge our assumptions about their feelings when they apply to become a charity. It has highlighted a wide range of opportunities that have been fundamental as we move into the design of our new process and it has given us another opportunity to further understand our service users.

This essential feedback has made us reconsider:

  • how we communicate application processes timescales
  • the kind of questions we ask to give us the information we need
  • any application checklists we issue to aid the applicant.

This work has also formed the basis of a rather lovely user journey map that easily depicts the user journey for all to see.

But the impact goes further than this project itself. These opportunities highlighted potential improvements across the organisation. They will help us design future digital services and improve our website and guidance.

Although I have been involved in a wide range of consultations, being in the room with stakeholders and seeing the approach first hand was a real eye opener. The approach challenges users to explore their motivations at all stages of the journey and highlights their barriers and frustrations. This is something that providers of public services should not be scared of discussing, and as an organisation we are already considering who else would benefit from this insight.

We also want staff to feel empowered, to get involved and to learn more. We are holding workshops with staff where they get to conduct user research for themselves. This encourages them to consider user research as part of any further improvement projects.

Overall, I would say that it is easy just to rush to the design part of any improvement project and use internal knowledge and experience to start building a prototype of what you want to achieve…

But stop…Take that time to speak to users – you won’t regret it!