When it comes to building a business case for incorporating user-centred thinking, it’s crucial to first understand who – and what – is getting in the way.
Unfortunately, despite widespread understanding of the principle that users should be at the centre of application planning and design, this knowledge is often not applied to everyday practice.
Across all layers of government, public servants face the challenge of operating in complex and resource-constrained environments.
An Intermedium study into Australian governments’ attitudes to user-experience (UX) design has identified obstacles that limit the adoption of user-centred thinking.
In pinpointing the barriers that exist within their organisations, study participants also provided recommendations for how to overcome these obstacles.
Based on the preliminary findings of the study, here’s my take on the top five issues that are directly impacting UX adoption – and their solutions.
Dilemma – Often, a government agency’s greatest barrier to UX adoption is its ingrained history of having successfully delivered projects under a single, tried-and-trusted methodology.
When the status quo has worked, change is rarely sought or embraced. In these instances, a commitment to systems-centred or process-driven practices thrives – along with scepticism around the benefits of seemingly ‘untested’ delivery models. Meanwhile, unfamiliarity with UX methodologies can also be intimidating and alienating.
Solutions – Cultural and structural issues can be difficult to overcome. One approach is to undertake small-scale trials and pilots to develop interest and encourage buy-in. Stakeholders are often quick to see the value when included from the outset.
Another approach involves the ‘language’ of user-experience. UX can be made more relatable by using less-intimidating terminology. Phrases like user-centred design, rather than UX, can seem more familiar to those from outside the field.
Another finding from the Intermedium research was that when a government agency’s core service connects directly with the broader community, there is a greater preparedness to embrace user-centred thinking. Identifying the beneficiaries of UX creates clarity around its value.
Issue – While those working at the coal-face may see the value in adopting UX principles, decision makers who hold the power about investing in resources can be distant to the project and unsympathetic to the cause. Although departments are seeing the value of allocating whole-of-agency responsibility for UX to a senior stakeholder, without the support of the leadership team their efforts can only go so far.
Solutions – UX advocates and change agents at the C-suite level can make all the difference.
For those not at the top, but who report into the executive team, it’s important to translate the value of UX into a language that connects with those making the decisions. Any business case for adopting UX needs to focus on the business outcomes and, more importantly, the priorities of the decision-maker.
Concern – UX has been a concept that designers and customer-focused professionals – both online and offline – have debated for decades. More recently, UX has largely sat in the ICT space. As a result, stakeholders outside the digital realm are often unaware of the long-term value of applying user-centred thinking.
Solutions – Study participants recommended including all key stakeholders in UX research programs. Focus groups were perceived as useful UX starting points, allowing stakeholders from across an organisation and user base to participate – directly seeing the benefits of their involvement.
Challenge – Government department workflows can be siloed, cumbersome and process-driven rather than outcomes-driven. This makes any kind of across-the-board change difficult.
Solutions – Interviewees suggested that an independent specialist unit mandated to provide UX services across the entire department can help drive agency-wide change.
Some departments are already starting to disrupt established procurement models, making it easier to acquire new digital goods and services, such as UX design. The Federal Government’s Digital Marketplace, for example, provides an ecosystem for government buyers to connect with digital specialists such as UX experts.
Limitation – Digital projects often fail to budget for UX research and design. A lack of funding for UX programs is especially prevalent in agencies, jurisdictions and sectors that are fiscally constrained. This is not unique to any specific state government with these limitations evident across all Australian states and territories.
Solutions – Some agencies have found ways of implementing UX design despite resource constraints. Learning from the experience of successful cases nationwide, as well as leveraging the Digital Transformation Agency’s Digital Service Standards – tools based on proven standards and practices developed by other governments (such as the UK) – provide a solid foundation for their own efforts.
These are just five of the 11 findings that are explored in the study Australian Governments’ Attitudes to UX to be released this year.
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Digital Marketing Manager