How does user research on a live service compare with discoveries?

Emma Davis
Image showing agile phases of discovery, alpha, beta and live.

I’ve been lucky enough recently to have spent a few months working with Skills for Care on the Adult Social Care Workforce Data Set (ASC-WDS) and it’s got me thinking about the challenges and perks of carrying out user research on a live service, rather than the discoveries that make up the majority of my work at Lagom.

Screenshot of ASC-WDS 'Create an account' page
ASC-WDS ‘Create an account’ page

In a discovery, you go in almost with a blank sheet, identifying the core needs of the user and focussing on the ‘must-haves’ for the service’. 

From its inception, ASC-WDS has had user research at its core and the result is, in my opinion and from my experience as a researcher on the service, a product that generally meets the core needs of the user very well.

So you have a live service, what next?

The Government Digital Service states that the aim of user research in the live stage is to assess people’s experience of using the service, understand evolving user needs and to test new features, changes or improvements to your service.

For ASC-WDS, this often looked like researching how the needs of users can be met even more effectively, for more users, and how the service can make best use of the data that is being collected, whilst providing a ‘return on time investment’ to the care providers who submit their information. 

What does this look like in practice?

I spent a number of weeks at Skills for Care researching improvements to the training and qualifications part of its service, an area which has potential to meet additional needs for users in managing their training information, as well as providing richer data for the data set. 

I really enjoyed working more closely with the developers, as we don’t always have such an active involvement with these roles in discovery projects, and the outcome was a number of changes that should be an improvement for the care providers that use ASC-WDS, as well as encouraging others to update this optional part of the data set. 

Different development phase, same challenges

Despite the differences in working on a live service, some of the challenges I faced were familiar, with recruitment topping the list. Although the users of ASC-WDS are often a keen, willing group, when it comes to continuous research it becomes more difficult to keep a pool of fresh and engaged users available to take time out of their busy day to take part. 

In the end, we did manage to speak to the users we needed to and managed to refresh the list of engaged, willing participants for future sprints. 

Whilst I’m enjoying being back working on a new discovery project again, I really valued seeing what happens further ‘down the line’, once a service has been developed with user research at its core and wish the ASC-WDS team all the best as they continue to develop the service. 

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