One challenge High Speed Two (HS2) were facing was that rapid growth meant they didn’t have a clear picture of their users and their needs; the people across HS2 are busily designing, managing, consulting, or otherwise supporting the development of the railway.
HS2 is the UK’s second high speed rail line, running North from London, initially to Birmingham. And the first main line railway to be built in the UK since 1899. Over the last year or so, while the Bill to give HS2 permission to commence building the railway works its way through Parliament, they have been busy building an organisation that is capable of delivery and ready to start construction.
The Information and Technology group in HS2, led by CIO James Findlay, is responsible for delivering the requiredDigital information services which are critical capabilities for HS2, enabling and supporting everything they do.
To put them in the best position to do this, HS2 have been working in partnership with us, to move to a service design approach for all of their digital information services.
As part of this engagement, Tom Brown and I, Lior Smith, were commissioned to lead a ten week user research project to investigate how the HS2 team use technology and to develop a broad and shallow, big picture understanding of the HS2 team and their needs; described through a set of user personas.
The project was commissioned by Jeremy Foot, HS2’s Head of Information Management, and Jan Ford, Head of Service Transition, who Tom and I affectionately nicknamed ‘J2’. They were great clients to work with: comfortable with uncertainty; hungry for new ideas and fresh approaches; happy to help out with unblocking barriers. This worked perfectly with our agile approach to the project (more on that later).
This broad understanding of HS2 IT’s technology users would help us make more informed decisions, set strategy for our services and set the scene for more detailed, continuous user research across our delivery portfolios further down the line.
Being a young organisation relatively new to user research, this was also an opportunity for HS2 to experiment with a new way of understanding themselves, trying out a range of techniques to see how they work, and to give their people exposure and experience of doing real user research.
A key aim of this project was also to make proper user research stick in future so we wanted a way to capture the experience to guide further user research in HS2. Rainmaker were therefore asked not just to help deliver a research project for our client, but also to equip them for the future.
We achieved this by making a real commitment to skills transfer, delivering the whole project in close collaboration with HS2 Business Analysts and producing a toolkit laying out guidelines for conducting effective user research in future.
Service design approach
The style of research we used in this instance is called ‘design research’.
It’s highly visual to increase engagement. It’s an open-style to capture the unexpected. And it communicates narratives from users to build empathy in the decision makers.
The result is an engaging research process that fosters a deeper understanding between technology users and the strategic decision makers who decide what technology shall be designed and then bought or built.
These are some of the techniques we used:
“What’s the one thing you would change about HS2?”
Here we are ecosystem mapping
We have left HS2 with the insight into their users that they wanted.
“We have something that’s of far more use than just informing information service delivery.”
In his post about this project on the GDS User Research Blog, Jeremy writes
“It’s the first time the organisation has understood itself from the perspective of the people who work in it, and will help inform a whole range of other work to develop the organisation in terms of capabilities, culture and ways of working.”
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