Starting at Government Digital Service

It’s been getting on for four months now since I started at GDS, so I thought I’d share a bit about this move and what I am up to. I’d been in my previous organisation for over six years. This is the longest I’d ever been in a particular job, although being a young organisation and growing from about 9 of us to 140 or so in that time meant that my role shifted and kept interesting for a long time. It was time for a change though and looking for something new I joined the UK Civil Service as a Senior User Research at GDS, working on the GOV.UK Forms team.

Government Digital Service build things to help create a simple and joined up government. They’ve been doing great work in this area for years, some of the best examples of digital public services in the world. So when I decided to focus more on user research in digital products they were definitely a ‘bucket list’ organisation.

One of the things they have built, and worked with others to build, is GOV.UK. This site brings together many aspects of government services, so it has a lot of forms to collect information from the public. GOV.UK Forms, the project I am working on, is a piece of work to build a product that makes building online forms and publishing them on GOV.UK easy and accessible for civil servants who are not digital specialists.

There are a large and growing number of ‘document based’ forms on GOV.UK, where it’s not possible to get a team of digital specialists to build a fully online form. Our product should make it easy for civil servants to build these online forms without needing those specialists.

It’s exciting to be working on a key new product for GDS, and building on a lot of work that has gone before in previous, related projects.

I’m working on this team with another Senior User Researcher to keep building the understanding in the team of how our users work, what they need, and how we can help them. It’s involving spending time with people in various government departments we’re partnering with, seeking out civil servants across government who are less digitally confident, and working with members of the public who have specific access needs.

The research we’re doing takes quite a few different approaches. We’re running usability testing on prototypes of features for the form builder. We’re running testing with people with access needs to make sure it is fully accessible. We’re spending lots of time talking to people who build and process forms to understand their workflows, the needs they have and the challenges they face.

It’s been a really interesting few months so far, and I’m finding it energising to be working with new people, on new things, and learning lots. Now I’ve got into the swing of things I’ll try to write more regularly about what I’ve been learning. I’ve also resurrected my newsletter and I’m writing more regularly on more general reflections there.

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