https://hmrcdigital.blog.gov.uk/2018/09/04/being-a-user-research-assessor/

Being a user research assessor

User Research Chris Moffit stands next to a screen displaying a gov.uk internet page

Hi, I’m Chris, a senior user researcher in the Newcastle Delivery Centre. My role involves assessing user research done as part of service development.

It took a few years to build my experience as a researcher. I did this by leading research activities on teams across personal and business taxes, before I was ready to progress to assessing teams. Attendance at various training events has helped to develop my skills as an assessor.

User research is essential to developing services which work for our customers. My role is challenging, but really enjoyable. I speak and listen to people who use the services we build, for example; a local plumber who needs to do a Self Assessment, or a working parent who is claiming Tax Free Childcare. It’s satisfying to see our customers being able to use our services easily; as a result of the hard work we’ve done to get it right. It’s great that users play a big part in service development, and, as a researcher I represent all of the users of our services.

The role of a research assessor

A researcher assessor’s role is to ensure that teams are carrying out regular research, with real users of the service, which is being designed. I check correct research methodologies are being applied. It needs to be done at the right time as well; there’s little benefit in creating and testing prototypes before user needs are identified.

I’ve been assessing for nearly two years. It was pretty daunting at first; it’s quite a responsibility, but I had experienced assessors to call upon for advice.

The team being assessed, must be able to show how they have spoken with real users to identify their needs, researched end-to-end journeys to build a service that users are first of all aware of, and find easy to use. It must cater for all our customers, provide support to those who need it and be accessible for those who use assistive technology.

Challenges

My experience as a researcher on a team being assessed, has helped in the approach I take when assessing other services – both roles can be challenging for different reasons!

Services may have a niche audience, so struggle to recruit users, whereas others are restricted to what they are able to research, or have constraints with budget for research. Part of my role is to assist teams to overcome these types of challenges. It is important to apply a consistent approach when assessing research as well.

Producing a written report specific to the research is a key part of the assessment. I like to take time to reflect and review my notes, this helps provide constructive and insightful feedback to the team.

A team sport

I’ve assessed research on 30 services up to now, for various projects across Discovery, Alpha, Beta and Live development phases. I also assess cross government services.

User research is a team sport, and it’s great to hear stories of how research insights have fed into journeys to improve user experience. I’ve seen some really good examples of how teams learn about their users and iterate journeys based on their findings. For example, observing users in usability testing sessions identified our customers were struggling to upload files. This resulted in a design change to solve this problem. We know from further usability testing, live observation and reviewing analytics, that this improved the users’ overall experience.

Building positive relationships

Engaging with the teams is a really important part of assessing. I provide positive feedback on the good work the teams have done, and realistic recommendations to help them improve.

I regularly work with teams to help them with recommendations. This has involved creating research plans, reviewing user journeys and offering different approaches to recruit specific users.

It’s been a positive journey, and a learning curve. Assessing has helped me develop my research knowledge, as well as increasing my awareness of the different services HMRC make available for our users. It’s been a good way to get to know my colleagues as well!

Home life

I’m lucky that HMRC allows me to have a great work-life balance. Outside of working as a researcher, I enjoy spending time with family and friends. I live in the North East, near to the coast and there’s nothing better than a walk with the dog on the beach after a busy day in the office.

Chris Moffit, Senior User Researcher

The sand dunes, sandy beach and sea where Chris likes to walk his dog

 

 

 

 

 

If you like the sound of Chris' role, we're recruiting for a user researcher, find out more on our current vacancies page.

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