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How do you prepare for Government Digital Service assessments?

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To prepare for a successful Government Digital Service (GDS) assessment, investing in effective user research is essential. This will ensure that the service being developed meets its users' needs and will help avoid a number of common pitfalls that can lead to project failure.

Woman taking part in research on a tablet.

This blog post will provide tips and recommendations for preparing for a GDS assessment. These tips are based on the 14 service standards, eight of which relate to user research. By following our recommendations, teams can increase their chances of success in the GDS assessment and ultimately create a service that meets the needs of their users.

Read part one of this two-part series on GDS assessments: The importance of user research for Government Digital Service assessments

Areas to consider in your assessment

We would recommend that all user researchers and project teams prepare for and include the following details in their assessment:

  • Research methods
  • Who the users are
  • Accessibility work or considerations
  • Riskiest assumptions
  • User personas
  • User journey maps
  • User needs
  • Design iteration
  • Limitations

Understand users and their needs

To demonstrate a clear understanding of users' needs during a GDS assessment, it is vital to present research and feedback from a variety of sources such as interviews, usability tests, and surveys. This will help build confidence in the work that has been done to understand users' behaviours, motivations, and pain points.

To further demonstrate a robust and nuanced understanding of the user base, it is helpful to document user needs into explicit, implicit and created categories. Incorporating personas can also help reflect the key behaviours of the users and understand how they will interact with the service. Personas can be used to test different parts of the service journey and to understand the impact on users.

A thorough understanding of user needs and behaviours is crucial in preparing for a successful GDS assessment.

Solve a whole problem for users

To demonstrate the ability to solve a whole problem for users during a GDS assessment, it is important to show an understanding of the entire service journey beyond just the specific area being focused on. This includes making connections across different services and considering both the online and any offline part of a user journey.

It is helpful to think about how the digital element of the service fits into the end-to-end experience for the user, including any non-digital channels that it may be necessary to interact with, such as phone, paper, or face-to-face communication.

It is also important to consider and research with other users beyond just the end-users who may be impacted by the service, such as internal support staff and any other stakeholders, to show an understanding of their needs. Demonstrating a comprehensive knowledge of the service journey and the needs of all users is crucial in preparing for a successful GDS assessment. 

Make sure everyone can use the service

During a GDS assessment, it is essential to demonstrate consideration for assisted digital users and users with accessibility requirements. This includes speaking to users with different needs, such as dyslexia or visual impairments, and keeping track of where users fall on the digital inclusion scale throughout the project.

Acknowledging the importance of understanding the variety of users and their needs when designing a service is crucial in preparing for a successful GDS assessment. By considering the needs of all users and ensuring that the service is accessible, teams increase their chances of success in the GDS assessment and in creating an inclusive and user-friendly service. 

Government Digital Inclusion Strategy - GOV.UK

Iterate and improve frequently

The ability to provide clear examples and documentation of frequent iteration and improvements based on user feedback are very important in preparing for a GDS assessment. This demonstrates a commitment to continuously improving the service and ensuring that it meets the needs of its users. To effectively showcase this during the assessment, it is helpful to provide examples where the UX designer and other team members have made iterations to the prototype based on user feedback. This can be done by describing the original pain point and then showing how the new design addresses that issue. By providing clear examples and documentation of iteration and improvement, teams can demonstrate their dedication to creating a high-quality, user-friendly service during the GDS assessment. 

Prepare as a team, work as a team

Assessment preparation should be done in collaboration with the entire project team coming together to prepare but being clear on how best to use time effectively by breaking off into sub-groups as needed. For example, the designer and user researcher may work together to identify any overlaps to support each other on the assessment day. By working as a team and involving all members in the preparation process, teams can increase their chances of success in the GDS assessment and ensure that all aspects of the service are thoroughly covered. 

Be open and transparent

It is essential to be honest and transparent about the work done during a GDS assessment rather than trying to appear perfect. This includes acknowledging any weaknesses or limitations in the research and being open about the challenges faced during the project.

Acknowledging these challenges shows a thorough understanding of the work and allows the team to present a realistic plan for addressing any problems. Having all the answers is unnecessary, and these situations can be an opportunity to seek recommendations from the assessor, who is there to help. It is also important to remember that user research is a team game, and the whole team should be involved in sharing knowledge about the service and user needs. By working as a team and being honest and transparent about the research, you can increase your chances of success in the GDS assessment. 

Why User Research?

Effective user research is essential for the success of any service team. It is not enough to have a user researcher on the team or for user research to be a last-minute tool to pass a GDS assessment. The assessors will be able to recognise this approach, and it will be difficult to meet the service standards.

Service teams should strive to create usable and accessible services that empower users to have the best possible experience. User researchers are in high demand because they are crucial in helping service teams to create human-centred services that users want to use, not just to pass a GDS assessment.  

If you are facing a GDS assessment in the future and need support with user research, please get in touch with us to discuss the opportunity to collaborate.