In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the B.C. government rapidly rolled out new programs, benefits, and services to support British Columbians. To support these new developments I was part of a dedicated team to manage and oversee all COVID-19 information being published on gov.bc.ca. I created a sustainable design research process to support the rapidly shifting context and needs for COVID-19 information.
I established a 3 week research cadence called “research sprints” to provide the team with a framework for completing research. Each 3 week sprint held research sessions on fixed dates and times with time in the sprint to prepare and analyze sessions.
I knew that conducting research in government was primarily an administrative process, largely paper-based, and manually done. Switching our existing processes to digital solutions would be the overarching narrative of this work.
The first challenge was getting a diverse group of users to test with.
I partnered with the Citizen Engagement team to add an extra question to their COVID-19 provincial survey asking people to self-identify if they would be interested in participating in usability testing. We were able to get about 2,330 responses from people putting their hands up to participate!
I sent out an online questionnaire to this group to confirm their interest in being a research participant, learn how they were impacted by COVID (to support audience segmentation), and get basic demographic information to support a GBA+ approach to recruitment. Setting up this system allowed me to easily contact people for each research sprint.
To streamline our sprints further, I converted our paper consent forms into a digital form, and procured a new vendor to provide electronic gift cards as stipends. Of course this was all done with the collaboration and teamwork of our privacy, legal, and finance teams!
With each sprint, the processes became more streamlined, which allowed me to spend time focusing on other ways of identifying user needs and behaviour patterns. In addition to the usability testing, I recognized there was lots of data floating around from different sources that could inform our content. For example, we pulled together chatbot question trends from our site and the BC Centre for Disease Control, reviewed call centre trends, social media trends, website analytics, and our page by page ‘Did You Find’ responses.
Pulling this information together helped me provide recommendations for content prioritization and areas of research to explore in future sprints.
To date, four research sprints have been completed with plans no plans on stopping.
Outcomes & Reflection
Testing content helped our team improve the clarity of language on different web pages and identified issues with the page design. I was able to feed back our test findings immediately after our sessions and have content updated an hour later.
Accessibility and inclusive design are unfortunately not always top of mind when rushing towards politically charged deadlines (or public emergencies). Luckily, having a stable research framework in place has allowed us to start asking questions like “Who aren’t we hearing from?” This is especially true when looking at the self-selection bias our recruitment questionnaire provided.
Our research team is now connected to a disability community roundtable related to COVID-19 to establish relationships with these groups and bring them into our research process and future work.
This work was an excellent example showing how design research could become formalized as an operational process, rather than a one-off activity. With each sprint I’ve been able to reduce different administrative burdens, create more effective templates, and operationalize the research bit by bit. I’m proud that this work will have a lasting legacy in our division and across the BC public service.
Partnering with the public engagement team to help with recruitment has also resulted in the recruitment of the most diverse and balanced set of research participants in our team’s projects to date.