Case Studies

User research about grey literature and research repositories

Knowledge and Library services (which were part of Health Education England and, as of 1st April 2023, became part of NHS England) exist to ensure that NHS bodies, their staff, patients, and the public are able to use the right knowledge and evidence at the right time. Their work aims to enable decision-making, learning, research and innovation of the highest quality.

Project overview

Knowledge and Library services approached us with the aim of better understanding the need for repositories capturing knowledge and/or research and grey literature throughout the NHS in England.

The term ‘grey literature’ refers to publications and outputs produced by organisations outside of traditional academic publishing channels. This might include unpublished research, conference papers, service evaluation reports, government documents, posters and QI projects.

Building on previous work from the Knowledge and Library services team, we designed and carried out user and stakeholder research to help understand the behaviours and needs of users and the range of perspectives amongst stakeholders.

Project goals

The main goals for the research were for the client to understand:

  • The perspectives of key stakeholders
  • The range of current approaches and solutions, including examples of the more effective current approaches
  • Any known challenges or constraints to current and future approaches of managing grey literature
  • Who the users of research repositories and grey literature across healthcare actually are
  • Why people are using grey literature and research repositories, and what value they are getting from it
  • The common user journeys for users of repositories and grey literature

Project team

To deliver the necessary work, the Lagom project team consisted of the different disciplines of a dedicated User Researcher, Service Designer, Delivery Manager and a Project Lead.

What we did

  • Conducted 18 user interviews
  • Conducted 8 stakeholder interviews
  • Conducted 2 one-to-one user needs sessions
  • Developed a backlog of 33 user needs
  • Analysed 118 responses to a user needs validation survey
  • Developed 4 user journey maps
  • Developed 4 proto-personas

Following our user research standards, we set out to gain knowledge and data to enable us to provide answers to the project goals. This allowed us to analyse, group and present our findings.

The research involved interviews with individuals from different user roles, which had been prioritised by the client at the outset of the project. These were: NHS staff working in a range of disciplines, research and development staff, NHS Commissioners, and NHS library staff.

We also carried out two one-to-one user needs sessions. These research activities enabled us to identify user needs, which were then tested in a validation survey.

We put together a series of journey maps and proto-personas for the project’s four key user roles. The personas served to provide a deeper understanding of the people who utilise grey literature and/or research repositories, whilst the journey maps visually described the current user experience in a single overview.

We also spoke to stakeholders. These sessions helped us to gain a better understanding of current approaches to managing grey literature within health and care, as well as capturing any challenges to consider with future approaches.

Project outcomes

Our research enabled us to put together and present a detailed set of 34 findings. These included:

  • People hope that improved access to grey literature will reduce duplication of effort in healthcare research
  • There may be some unwillingness to share evidence
  • There are aspirations for approaches driven by artificial intelligence and machine learning
  • There are different ideas surrounding the quality assurance of a grey literature repository
  • Having a repository alone would not solve all of the issues in this space

We shared these in a findings show and tell presentation at the end of the project, as well as detailing them in a comprehensive report which was put together for the client.

Our findings served to validate a number of existing assumptions about the use of grey literature and research repositories in health and care, as well as bringing up a number of new themes and points to consider.

The results of our research are being considered by the Knowledge and Library services team in order to support future decisions about grey literature and research repositories within health and care in NHS England.

It was a pleasure to work with the Lagom team who expertly steered this project and research. The findings provided us with a unique insight into senior stakeholder perspectives around repositories and the management of grey literature in health and care which we can now use to demonstrate the importance of this area of work.

Helene Gorring, Knowledge and Library Services Development Manager, NHS England Workforce Training & Education

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