Recognising capability: getting my start in user research

Recognising capability: getting my start in user research

I’m Tom, a user researcher in the Welsh Local Government Digital team. I’ve been doing the job for just over a year now, and I’ll go so far as to say it’s the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. But it wasn’t until I was sat in the job interview that I truly realised that, despite never having worked as a user researcher before, I had still managed to collect enough of the necessary skills, knowledge and User Research (UR) principles through my previous work to be capable of doing this job well.

My two previous jobs were as a Research Officer for a data organisation and an Improvement and Development Officer for a care regulatory body. I have always had a passion for helping to improve the lives of service users and took pride in making some contribution to this improvement in both these roles.

Working in these roles also helped develop some of the engagement, research and analysis skills that are so important in user research. These are the skills that were recognised by my team when I was interviewed. Despite my lack of direct experience, they could see that I had empathy, I could communicate and listen well, I had an inquisitive and analytical mind and was eager to learn and develop.

I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel like a bit of an imposter for the first few months in my new role, having never worked as a user researcher before, so it was important to me to get as much relevant training under my belt as possible. I’m fortunate that my team are massive advocates for training and development so over the last year I’ve been on a number of brilliant training courses that have helped no end in solidifying my knowledge and improving my confidence, to the point where I can now confidently call myself a user researcher!

I’ve now been lucky enough to work across a wide range of different projects with many different local government colleagues and Welsh citizens, and this has also really helped to develop my UR skillset and helped me understand the local government landscape. But it’s apparent that there aren’t enough user researchers working in local government to carry out the user research that is vital to ensure that service users are placed at the heart of local government service design.

Yet I’ve met plenty of local government colleagues who do have many of the right skills and, just as importantly, the desire and drive to carry out user research. The challenge is getting local government to recognise that many employees have these skills and to encourage them to develop their skills and knowledge so that they can go on to improve local government service design through user research.

Last year (2021) we published the Welsh Local Government Digital Strategy, and, as well as championing human-centred design and the use of data to improve digital services, our strategy has identified capability as a critical area of focus in order to drive digital improvement in local government.

We recognise that people working in local government have diverse skills, capabilities, and characteristics and we want to support these people to make sure that we benefit from their skills and strengths. As a team we are looking at how we can help develop these skills for potential user researchers by offering a range of relevant training, by developing a user research learning framework for local government colleagues to help develop that knowledge and skill, and by creating a user research community of practice for local government employees who are, or hope to be, carrying out user research.

If you are interested and capable, and a local government employee, then we hope we can help you move further into user research. If you have any questions or want any further information, contact me at tom.brame@wlga.gov.uk.

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