A week of user research – and also a timely reminder that expectancy is something you can’t take for granted, and legacy can be a burden whoever you are. That last bit is especially if you are government.

We regularly encounter people in our sessions who would still prefer to use paper based forms.

Doing things on paper gives them the chance to “think things through” before they write them down. And it’s totally understandable. That’s quite a challenge for digital by default. We don’t want to put ideas or our preferences in those people’s heads. We want to hear what they are thinking, what would work for them. We have a remit to get more people using online services, but we need to know why they wouldn’t – or can’t.

During my time on inheritance tax and tax credits the crux for the user is usually the importance of getting the right information down because of its consequences. The government services I have worked on are not unique in this. And, of course, all round here.

The ways people “get this right” are fascinating.

Working the numbers out and doing a “pretend fill in” on another bit of paper. Writing the numbers onto the form first with pencil, checking, double-checking, triple-checking, before “using a pen”. Doing one part of the form, and getting a partner to do the other half, and then checking each other’s answers. A sample there of regular scenarios.

People knowing they are entering the right thing: so, so important.

For tax credits renewals this is really important for our users. People want to get this right, they need to get it right. This is them wanting to get the right information to government so they get money they need. “This is my money for the next year.” People plan their lives off the back of this. We have been into homes as part of our research and testing the service where people really do need this money. It is a lifeline.

There is a strong willingness for people to use “a website” to do these government transactions. Because it is faster and/or more convenient to send in digitally. Digital by default can easily happen here, because we have users who want to be digital by default.

The drawback: While it is faster to send in users still want that time to get it, the process they are doing, right. And, yes, to many it is a process.

Sample thinking:

“Doing things on the internet is fast, but I want to be able to think before I enter the information – and then check I have entered the right information.”

They want to be able to know what they are going to provide, think it through, get it “into the right boxes”, make sure it right, and then send it.

We have an approach called “Check Your Answers”.

With our users needs we cannot simply let you just go through a government service, provide information, and not allow you to check what you have provided. If you are a regular shopper online will be used to seeing a summary of your order before you click a button that indicates “yup, that is what I want to buy, now I will pay for it”. You want to make sure it is right.

The Check Your Answers approach replays the details of your interaction with government before you send it in.

You will answer questions. When you get to the end of the questions we’ll give you a summary of those answers. You check those answers. Anything not right? We’ll let you nip back and change it. Everything OK? Just click the button below and the info has been sent on.

Ben Holliday wrote an excellent post about the beginnings of this approach during his time at the Government Digital Service, and you can read the matured service manual entry on Check Your Answers

In many research sessions I have seen users come to these Check Your Answers screens and are quiet because – we find out later – this is “normal”. They tell us this approach, this part of the journey, this page is what they expected, because of their wider world experience. They check their answers and move on. A government service is in line with what the modern world does: Check.

When some reach this screen they say they like this, they weren’t sure if they’d have the chance to see their answers. It’s assuring. It’s reassuring. Some “sort of expected it”. Some “didn’t know this would be here, but it’s good it is”.

But also I have seen users, more than I expected, who didn’t think there would be a chance to Check Their Answers. And many show positive surprise. It gives that chance to take a break from answering questions to go through what they have replied.

Users saying if they had known the service did this they would have tried digital services sooner is a barrier.

Our mission is to make things that work for users, all users, be inclusive. This week was a reminder we still need to make sure our users know that doing something online is not only convenient for sending the information in but they can take their time, get it right, and we’ll give them something to check it.

As one user succinctly put it for us:

“All my life I have dealt with government over the telephone and with letters. Don’t just expect us to do it because it’s on the internet. Show the public how straightforward this is. I would not have tried this unless I was here [in this research session].”

We need to do this sooner than when our users are in the service. We need to do this sooner than when our users hit gov.uk.

It’s easy to say we’ve got a lot of this going in the right direction in gov. We have. That isn’t us being rose tinted specs about it. And we know there’s lots that isn’t right, there’s still lots to do. And having a majority of people expect, to know they can use a digital service that works well for them needs to be near the top of that list. While we talk about doing what works for users, we need to make sure we get across that it works to that audience.

We’ll get there, but we cannot take it for granted it will just happen. Like I say, much still to do.


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