User Research Meet Up – Participant Experience

We try hard to learn about people’s experiences with government.  It makes sense to understand what is a good experience for participants.

Designing inclusive services in an inclusive way – (Cat)

Cat has been leading the work within Scottish Government to make the service design process an inclusive one.  Rather than one that designs services to include everyone.  She posed the mind boggling question for the Service design within Scottish Government:

“Can you run design research with people who are deaf & blind or Functionally illiterate?”

Wow…..thats a whole new dimension to my thinking already!

Social Security & Experience Panels (Kate @kalsau & Trish)

crutchesThe social security service in Scottish Government covers support for events from birth to death and all points in between.

“we need users in the room when design decisions are made.”

It pays to be honest – tell users the truth “we are trying our best, but we are not being the best we can be as yet.”

  • How can they get in the room?
    • It can depend on the time of year.  (icy conditions seriously affect people with mobility issues)
    • We created a user engagement strategy – every one in the team to spend at least 2 hours with users every 6 weeks – included in PMR targets
    • Include the experience panel volunteers. (2400 volunteers with lived experience on the panel, recruit people via online, text or phone – whatever suits them best)
    • Use an accessibility checklist to ensure venues are suitable for everyone.
    • Challenge internal processes – the expenses forms are difficult – make it as simple as possible for people.
    • be flexible – getting users involved may mean face to face interviews, telephone or email can be helpful to include everyone. Perhaps you need to change the time of the meeting.
    • find a user recruitment provider who recruits in the community not just by digital.
  • Can they participate?
    • we must be mindful about confidentiality and making User Research sessions a safe experience.  Social media can interrupt that and negatively impact upon users willingness to share.
    • sense making is more powerful than sense checking.
    • observe, maybe deploy the pilot/navigator model in sessions, so that one UR leads the session but has a colleague that checks that every user is involved and manages that.
  • Are they really present in the discussions?
    • User stories have an audit trail back to user research.

What is it like to be a user research participant? (Ben @B_Cubbon & Nick @nicprice )

I wrote about Ben and Nic’s ideas in the summer #UX Bristol – Meeting Users where they are.  If we recruit better participants we will make better services.  We all have caricatures of participants, maybe the way that they are recruited means that we recruit more time rich, opinionated people than would be ideal?

Findings from their research

  • 48% of the online respondents wouldn’t take part on Skype, because they don’t have it, or they felt it was intrusive.
  • 41% wouldn’t take part in home research, there were fears of safety and concerns about tidying up or shared accommodation.
  • about 1/3 of respondents who were reluctant
  • “Focus group research is competitive, restrictive and shouty.”
  • The more research that you take part in, the more positive you become about research.
  • 44% of participants have been referred by a friend or colleague
  • There are barriers to participation such as parking can be exclusive.
  • Health conditions can be a barrier to participation planning to help participants manage them and attend research is important because they are the people we need to talk to are those with health difficulties.
  • 20% of Participants often have useful thoughts after the research is concluded, do you have a way for them to provide feedback later?
  • Participants would like to know what was the impact of their help.

Meet Ron & Karen:

How would you best construct a recruitment drive to reach out to people like them or keep them motivated to continue to apply for future research opportunities?

They came up with a Participant Journey for User Research


(please note the really nice use of creative commons licensing – not something you see every day!)

This is a really valuable tool for making sure that Users arrive at the session in a relaxed state of mind. 90% of the work in User Research happens before the camera is switched on.

It is too common for the recruitment process not to overlap with the research.  I think I want to be managing the whole of the experience of my users, making sure that they feel valued and supported.

Maybe we should treat Users with the same level of respect as we would for our own grandmother, rather than as assets or commodities to be mined for information?

Finally – give users insight into the impact their voice had into the design of the service.

If you are interested in helping Nic & Ben take this forward, then get in touch with them, they are looking to move this work forward.

Why involve users in “SenseMaking”.  (Don’t do user research to people, involve them in every stage of the Research process.)  Philip & Jane

SenseMaking is part of the analysis, in other words, do users see the same problems as the researchers?  This means arranging a session where you watch users and colleagues independent of your project to do an analysis of your research and compare it with your own.  It is important to ensure that the raw data is all readable and intelligible, otherwise the process will simply take too long.

There are 20 cognitive biases many of them can be present – very useful aide memoire on the Business Insider


  • It is valuable to make sure that you spot the bias of Users and make sense of their contribution in light of their context and life experience.
  • It is worth writing research questions or doing analysis separately and then comparing notes.
  • It is worth taking everything off the wall and reconstructing the understanding again.
  • Maybe it is worth declaring your baggage and preconceptions at the start.
  • Bring in users who have been involved in the research so far and some fresh faces.
  • Involve people of different skills and abilities in analysing the raw data, and film their summary of their findings.

This process can give you confidence in your analysis and the ability to defend the decisions and understand you build.  However, this does take more time than you imagine to plan and prepare for.  Make sure you get someone independent to review the data you share in these sessions to make sure that you don’t share anything you shouldn’t and ensure that SenseMakers sign a 2 way consent dealing with confidentiality.

There may be value in providing a live feed so that interested colleagues can watch without intruding or crowding the session.

This is an excellent idea to help to evaluate your own analysis skills – I don’t see it as something that should be done in every phase of every project, but as a regular but infrequent event, it would really add something to the quality of the analysis going on in a team.

Co-design is not a workshop: Alastair

It is important to build resilience and capacity into the community, design is about giving skills to the community so that the community is better as a result of the workshop.


We have a bunch of stuff:

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We made a book.

Bias is something they use to describe the thoughts of others.  This isn’t a problem.  Power is.  Power is what people bring into the room and it is damaging.

How do you lose power to gain control?

Everything has power – this is an idea I first read about in Norman Mailer’s epic book The Fight  Although the book is about Muhammed Ali and George Foreman, it is about much more.  Mailer was a social historian by trade and he understood that in African Culture, a person’s power is the aggregate of their personality AND their clothing, jewellery and perfume.

Props have power.  Post it notes have no currency amongst most people.    The more of you that is in the space, the more you control it.

Find tools that connect with your users.  Make sure that users do not feel alone, they need to connected to their memories, capacities and communities.  People use stuff based on their wider schema and understanding of the world, which is rooted in being with their people.

Cognitive alignment – you need to allow the subconscious to bring experiences to the surface to avoid the conscious mind reacting.  Then you can get to deep sharing.  This has echoes in the idea of “walking a mile in their shoes”.

Indigenous research techniques – You can use props to to allow others to take control of things. Lego figures can allow people to create narratives for you.  “Tell me what your story is”  The props can enable people to remember stories in a way that they can’t when put on the spot.

Building stories matters. Surveys and interviews structure the power around the researchers needs, not the users.

Play – Play is very good way of getting people to tell you stuff that they couldn’t otherwise tell you. IT enables difficult truths to be spoken. It can enable an equalising the power balance in a room of senior and junior colleagues.

  1. Play is still power.  You are still controlling people.  You are still enforcing compliance.
  2. Play is disrespectful. It can make fun of something that is serious.  Using play money with people with financial difficulty could imply lack of trust and disrespect.

You must watch your participants for signs of distress.

Be aware of your choices and be open to change in order to facilitate better.

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