Helping housing association residents and users define their new website

A critically important part of our project is the discovery phase. This helps us to understand all the key tasks and needs of all the stakeholders in the project, both the organisation/business and the users. It’s getting the balance right between the two that will ensure the success of the website project.

We want to share some of our recent experiences working with our clients user groups: these range from Housing Associations, their residents groups to GP’s and NHS patients.

Running a successful workshop.

This is all about people and those people come in all types, so making sure they all have their say can be a tricky case of management and sensitive facilitating. We learn as much from the quite ones as the loud and keeping things harmonious.

We want to create a supportive environment where we can learn the most from those who have given up their valuable time. Workshops can be an strange place for users so it’s important to get across that this about them not us and its definitely not about technology. We have some simple guidelines to help this:

  • This session is about you not us.  Please speak up. Everyone’s view is wanted*
  • We can help but we want you to do the talking.
  • Please treat each other with respect and trust. I am not the client so everything is confidential.
  • There is no such thing as a silly question. If you don’t understand just ask. Someone (probably me!) has probably asked it before.

*Most importantly we mustn’t lead (this is really hard to do!).

We are looking for breadth of input more than depth – so it’s important to not get stuck into too much detail. If you are running more than one session then you must be consistent otherwise you wont get consensus or a clear remit. Careful planning and a realistic agenda is important to make sure you cover everything you need to.

We make sure that there is a scribe allocated to make good notes. These form part of our feedback, so again consistency is essential. We can then be sure we capture all the good stuff that will go into our final specification and project plan whilst feeding back to those that took the time to contribute.

Interactive sessions.

We run some interactive sessions using flip charts and sticky notes and cards to sort to get people off their chairs and talking.

We split things into two sessions:-

Part 1. Learning about users needs.

We are looking to find out more about:

1)      Key needs:
What are the key needs of stake holders and service users?

2)      Key tasks:
Taking the needs – what key tasks are users trying to do on the website?

3)      Pain / blockers:
What are the key obstacles users come up against when dealing with the organisation/What hinders your team from providing your service?

4)      3 year plan:
What up coming issues do you foresee that would impact on the website? What longer term issues or features do you see or would you like to see?

Part 2. Organising the information: Card sorting

We want to be able to organise and label the information on the new website as clearly as possible, so it is easy to find and users can carry out their tasks quickly.

To help find out how to do this we run a card sorting session.  Card sorting is a way to involve users in grouping information on a website.

Users will be asked to organise cards, each labelled with a piece of content or functionality,  into groups that make sense to them and then to name each group. This does help to an extent on the way we organize the taxonomy of the site, in that it is part of that process, but it’s real value is in labelling and sign posting of good content. We get to see the words that users are using and looking for.

Incorporating Internal Stakeholders needs as well.

Once we have the users input we also arrange for meetings with all key internal stakeholders.

It’s often the case the both internal and external groups have the same issues in mind; but they can come at them from very different ways. They certainly use different language and ears must be pricked up to see what words are used to describe the same things.

How we balance these two groups needs and communicate that through our design will be the greatest test of our project.

Feeding back the results

There’s nothing better than getting good feedback if you have taken the trouble to give up your time to help in a project like this.

That’s why we run follow up sessions with the same users that came to the first session.

We show them a wire-frame  which is a prototype of the site that they can click around. We ask them to perform some of the key tasks they highlighted:-

  • Was the important stuff easy and quick to find?
  • Was the right wording used to signpost information?
  • Could you carry out all the tasks you would normally need to?
  • How can we do better?

The results

By talking to the users and stakeholders and making sure we provide good feedback whilst noting all the responses,  we can test our design and thinking and change when its quickest and cheapest to do so. When the site goes live it’s only the beginning. This process sets the project off to a great start and ensures a much higher chance of success for everyone.