Starting with…. User Needs

DbD ResearchFollowing the lead set by GDS in their Government Service Design Manual, myself and a few colleagues at WCC have been exploring how we might adopt these service standards and how they could fit with our own internal procedures, governance structures and (most importantly) our people.  In order to really get to grips with it, we have chosen 2 “demonstrator projects” to put everything to the test and see how we get on. The first project is looking at care leavers and how we can better support them, the second project is looking at skip license applications – both very different areas of the council with a mix of users.

We are working with 2 organisations, ESRO and leapSTONE, to support us on this journey. In May this year, 40 WCC staff members from a wide variety of disciplines attended a couple of workshops that explained the high level principles of Service Design and User Research (specifically ethnography). A sub-set of that group (including service managers, researchers, business analysts, project managers and web developers) are being taken further down the service design road and are working on our 2 demonstrator projects to put these skills, tools and techniques into practice.

We are just entering our “discovery phase” for both projects, where we are focussing on getting a high-level understanding of user needs, what the existing service landscape looks like and a sense of what our initial prototypes might explore. Some challenges we have had to think about so far include…


  • How easily can you pull together an internal team with the right skills to focus on the project?
  • How much time can they give to the project?
  • Can you be co-located?

We don’t have the luxury of being able to pull people off their day jobs to work solely on one project, so how can we work within those constraints? We don’t have offices to co-locate people, so how can we collaborate virtually?

User Research

  • Do you have people with user research skills?
  • Do you have the right kit to do this properly (e.g. camcorders)?
  • How would your internal finance processes cope with being able to incentivise people to take part in research?
  • How could you share this research across the council to maximise its potential use?

What we are doing

Following the workshops in May, the project teams have been busy recruiting for the ethnographic research phase. The research itself will be taking place for 3 weeks from the end of June into the middle of July. We are then re-grouping at the end of July to explore the research themes, analyse the work we have done so far and hold an “ideation seminar”.

It is early days for us, and we are writing a diary to keep track of what is and isn’t working in order to inform how we can embed this more widely across the council. I will be blogging as regularly as I can so we can share our experiences more widely. One thing we are very lucky to have is 2 teams of people who are incredibly enthusiastic and keen to make the most of this experience.

If you would like to get in touch and find out more about our work, please feel free to get in touch with me at or via Twitter.


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