We are always thankful to the time people give up to help us in user research sessions. In the sessions we like it when people speak aloud what they are thinking. We are always thankful for their thoughts in these sessions.

We’re thankful for their bravery. It’s not easy openly talking about what you’re doing, what you’re going through. It’s not easy sharing your thoughts, especially with strangers – which we are to the people who help us test our service.

It’s natural, it’s only human to be nervous, even defensive, when you do something new, when someone it watching. These responses can be elevated when it is with something that is seen to be complicated, like inheritance tax can be. And then throw in the “fear of the tax man”.


We have a lot of this when we do our inheritance tax research sessions. We do a lot to make sure our sessions aren’t nerve-wracking. But we always seem to get little peaks of some or all of the above. So, we are always thankful that people are willing to take part in our sessions. We never take that for granted.

While as a government bodies we are digital by default, we cannot forget those who need assistance not just digital but interfacing with government. This is why we work towards ensuring there is assisted digital support.

In a recent user research session we were lucky to have – for me – one of the bravest participants in our sessions.

We spend a lot of time in our research sessions with people who are over 55.

We have spent time with many that are incredibly comfortable with using computers, laptops, tablets, and touchscreen mobile phones. We spend time with people who just use desktop computers. And we’ve spent time with older people who only use a tablet and a touchscreen mobile phone. And we have spent time with many who are less comfortable with digital devices, but can get by.

Until recently I had not spent time in our sessions with someone who could not use a computer. Just re-read that sentence. We are working on “digitalising” the inheritance tax service. When we ask people to come and work with us, we are up front about this. So, for a change, we added onto our request for help by saying “If you do not use computers or have never used a computer we need your help, we want you to help us.”

A lady came to our most recent session to help us.

She was nervous.

She sat with me and told me she understood what computers could do, that she thought they were “amazing”, but she didn’t understand them, she couldn’t use them.

If she ever needed to do something on a computer she got one of her sons to do it. Sometimes she watched, but mostly she rang one of her sons.

But she wanted to help, she wanted to learn. She was really clever, quick, understood the paperwork we went through with her to explain inheritance tax, and quickly became attuned to the fake documents we were using to help file a fake inheritance tax estate.

As I type this I am doing something that she was nervous doing herself. Typing was an unknown for her. She just didn’t do it. She just didn’t do this thing many of us just do.

This meant we had to assist her. We sat on the computer, and went through our service on screen, asking her the questions that came up on screen, clicking or typing a response and showing her on screen.

At one point the lady told me a value which I typed.


She looked at the piece of paper in her hands.


She went to the other papers, and started to look through them.

“I think that’s right, but I am just checking.”

She found the other piece of paper she was looking for, and calmly scanned it. She went back to the original piece of paper.

“I thought it was right, but I’ve just looked. I got it wrong. It’s this value. But we have already put something into the computer.”

“We can change it, it’s fine, it’s easy,” I told the lady.

“It’s easy for you,” she reminded me.

Yes, she was right.

So I showed her what I meant by “easy”.

I moved the pointer up the screen to the box. I clicked on it, and I told her “If I press this key it will remove that number you gave me before. We’ll then have a blank box again. It’s like using an eraser. It’s not going to break anything. And we will type in the new number.”

The lady nodded. Her earlier nervousness seemed to have gone. She told me the number and I typed it in.

“That’s what I meant by it being easy. We can just go back and correct it.”

“It does look easy,” the lady told me.

A couple of screens later, the lady had to do a little digging to find the value needed.


She had found it.

I asked her if she wanted to try typing it.

“Remember, this is a fake website. It doesn’t save this information. You can’t break it.”

“Can I?” the lady asked.

“You just need to press this key once. Just tap it.”

She slowly leant over and tapped the key. She peered up and saw the number on screen.

“Do you want to do the next number?”

She pressed zero.

She pressed zero again.

“That’s all the numbers for that,” she confirmed. And she sat back into her usual straight position, and laughed. “Oooo, that was nervous!”

A little later I asked if she wanted to enter another value. Again, she leant over, less nervously, and with patient assurance pressed the four numbers needed.

She smiled this time, and did a little nod. She’d done good.

“Maybe I will do the typing instead of my sons next time!”

By the end of the session this lady had also perfectly extracted the information from the documents for us to put into the service. She’d been so brave to even be there and do the stuff while she was there. She’d been brilliant.

All the people who help us with research to shape government services, not just inheritance tax, are brave. They are there to test our knowledge, remind us of things, and teach us new things. And once in a while we get to teach those people something new.