Giving your users a voice Part 1: Building Empathy

April 15, 2019

In August 2018, Valtech began working with Department for Transport (DfT) to redesign the Blue Badge service. Since discovery and throughout alpha and beta we’ve sought ways to better understand our users. These fall into 3 broad groups; “Applicants”, “Organisations” and “Local authorities”. For the purposes of this article I’m going to focus on the applicants. This could be somebody applying on behalf of somebody else or themselves.

As anybody working closely with the users; researchers, service and interaction designers, you get to know them pretty well. The struggle that everybody in this discipline is well aware of, is passing this knowledge on to the wider team. From developers through to delivery managers, unless they come to watch a usability test or interview they can feel quite detached. It’s important to build this empathy because these are the people that will be building the digital service or making the decisions as to what they build.

Working on a service that goes onto GOV.‌UK has a number of advantages. There’s the incredible cross-government network, with Slack and multiple mailing lists. As well as the great GOV.‌UK design system with frontend and prototype kit. Something that’s been there from the start of the digital transformation though is the “Done” page. All GOV.‌UK services should have a “Start” page and a “Done” page, where your users would generally start and finish their journey on your digital service.

The “done page” is linked off from your final confirmation page. It consists of two questions "Overall, how did you feel about the service you received today?” and "How could we improve this service?”. From the first question you can calculate your “Satisfaction score”, which is important to monitor how well your service is performing. The second question is more difficult to quantify, it’s a free text box with a 1200 character limit.

The problem

Free text is notoriously tricky to analyse. People can literally type in anything in that box (and they will!). Users are reminded on the page with a warning “Please don't include any personal or financial information, for example your National Insurance or credit card numbers.”. At the moment, the way to get this data is through something called “Feedback explorer”. Somebody with access to this can export the data into a CSV file. At the start of our project, when we were in “private beta” we were able to manually scan the data in here. As the user base was quite small, this was relatively pain-free to do.


Our process was to go through each submission and assign it to a theme. We’d then quantify how many people were submitting feedback with a particular theme and then play this back to the team. We’d do a playback with a “leaderboard” of responses along with quotes for the team to read. As the weeks passed, we started opening the service up to more users. In December we opened it up to all local authorities and we quickly realised that we’d need a new approach. We’re now averaging 1,000 responses a week. To date (25 March 2019) there’s been 12,700+ responses.

On the Blue Badges service, we use online collaboration tools for everything. Our colleagues at DfT are based in Swansea, delivery team in Manchester and we have consultants that travel up from London and Birmingham. Not to mention the 207 local authorities, which are by definition, spread across the UK. For stand ups we Google Hangouts, for stories and documentation JIRA and Confluence, Slack for general communication. For our bi-weekly show & tells we broadcast our Google Slides presentations using YouTube Live. It was therefore the natural thing to do to bring our feedback exports into Google Sheets.

Click here for 'Giving your users a voice Part 2'

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