How can personas help to ensure that projects are user focused? Dyfrig Williams reflects on how they’ve been used for his work on acquiring data effectively.
As part of my Cutting Edge Audit work, I’ve been working on a test project to gather data for auditors so that we can work more efficiently.
I’ve blogged before on why I’m really interested in the digital delivery of public services because of the relentless focus on user need. This focus isn’t new to me – my previous work on citizen engagement made it clear to me that properly involving the people who access services at an early stage results in a service that is effective at targeting its resources.
Now that I’m four months in to a six month project you could argue that I’m leaving it a bit late to start on the practical part of the work. But in my public engagement role I heard time and time again that staff that didn’t involve people properly delivered their work according to existing preconceptions about what people wanted or needed. I was determined not to make the same mistake with my work, so I developed personas for the main users of data to ensure that we are focusing on building something that people would actually find useful.
Personas are representations of different types of customers or users. They answer the question “Who are we designing our work for?” They help to align strategy and goals to specific user groups. As we’re testing this work with the Health Performance Audit Team, I developed personas ranging from Performance Support Officers to Audit Managers, as well as complimentary work with members of the Financial Audit Technical Team and a Financial Auditor working on the frontline with health boards.
Where to start?
I was quite excited to start on the personas so that I could see how my public engagement mindset fitted with digital practice. My colleague Louise Foster-Key, who is the Digital Comms Officer at the Wales Audit Office gave me a few pointers from her work on the Wales Audit Office Intranet, and I also looked at wider good practice. There’s a great post on user personas on the Office for National Statistics’ Digital Blog, but I ended up basing my work on the Government Digital Service (GDS)’s Guide to User Stories. I had a punt at using Trello, but as this was a largely solo exercise (and it was only a small project to manage) I didn’t find it to be as useful as I expected. Instead I used Xtensio, a free(ish) tool that Louise recommended to me.
I stuck with the GDS format as the structure of my user stories, which I put together from interviews and emails with staff in key roles:
- As a… (Who is the user? A biography of the person accessing data)
- I need/want/expect to… (What does the user want to do?)
- So that… (Why does the user want to do this?)
- It’s done when… (This is the GDS acceptance criteria, which is a list of outcomes that you use as a checklist to confirm that your service has done its job and is meeting that user need)
Has it been useful?
By talking to auditors in depth about each of the roles that I’ve mapped, I’ve got a much better understanding of their work. This will be useful to me far beyond the lifespan of the Cutting Edge Audit project, as I look at how the Good Practice Exchange can work more effectively with audit teams, especially the Health Audit Team, who volunteered to work with us on this piece of work.
The main use of the personas will be to sense check our work and to ensure that the purpose of our test matches what our auditors want and expect. Now that they’ve helped us run through some hypothetical tests, we’ll use their thoughts to avoid scope creep for the first stage of our iteration.
Their thoughts will also be incredibly useful for my section of our final report. It’s been said that “The pen is mightier than the sword”, and in this sense we as the report authors have all the power – it is us who provide the recommendations for future priorities. This work will ensure that my recommendations are grounded in the realities of our staff’s day to day work.
The final personas are now online and have been split into two sections because of the limitations of the free version of Xtensio. The first set of personas are based on the Performance Audit roles, and the second set include personas based on the Financial Audit and Technical Team roles.
These personas now give us a level of expectation for our work. If the test fails, they give us a rigorous criteria to examine our output against, and a clear vision to check our delivery against. On the other side of things, should the work (as we hope) be a success, we have an opportunity to think about whether personas can help us to be more focused and responsive as we ensure that public services really are delivering value for money for the people of Wales.