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To carry out and really utilise user research requires planning, time, and most importantly an acceptance that what users want might not match the priorities of your organisation. These barriers often stop us from carrying out good user research, or any at all.

We in the Transformation and Digital Services Team are making it our aim to improve our services by embedding the culture of doing user research whenever appropriate. And we’re doing this by three key elements …

Getting it right ourselves

They say you should practise what you preach. And that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. In the team we follow our Agile Framework for digital processes where the first stage, Discovery, involves carrying out user research. We have created and follow our Service Design Process used for service reviews and to support our Commissioning Process, both of which depend on understanding user need and empathising with users to design the right solution. By creating these best practice toolkits and following them for every project we do this ensures our services deliver what our users want and need.

Sharing the skills

As part of our aim to embed commissioning thinking we delivered four training sessions to a number of staff across the authority. The training was split into three parts with the first focusing on service design. There was a strong emphasis on the importance of understanding user need. One of the training tasks saw staff working in teams, thinking of key user research questions they would use for a given scenario. This really helped to highlight to staff the difference between surveying customers or consulting customers and true, unbiased user research.

User stories were also a strong focus of the session to demonstrate how powerful a tool they can be to draw out real user need. We highlighted the benefits of including an acceptance criteria, as a tool for checking back a service has done its job and is meeting the user need.

The training helped to kick start the wider authority into understanding the importance of user research.

Supporting the process

With limited resource in our team it’s impossible for us to lead on every element that would benefit from user research. That’s why we delivered training to key members of staff and developed toolkits and guidance to be shared. We’re also supporting Service Managers with their own reviews and projects to get them on board with the importance of user centred designing.

Our next steps involve presenting our commissioning approach to members to highlight how this is centred around understanding user need. We will also be developing our own user research toolkit.

Kathryn is a Service Design Officer in the Transformation and Digital Services Team. If you have any questions you can contact

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Digital Services

The Digital Service team at Maidstone Borough Council lead on the research, design and development of user centered services for residents in Maidstone

Find out more about the team

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