Watch AGL Live: Engaging users for better UX in government

A panel of UX practitioners working in government gathered on October 10 to discuss the value of engaging users to create better services, and how the public sector can take steps to prioritize UX activities in projects.

The event was hosted by AGL Association, a nonprofit working to help modernize government through shared knowledge and community. Participants included:

  • Christy Hermansen | Design Lead, Integrated Award Environment at GSA
  • Jim Lane | UX Executive and NoVA Meetup Founder
  • Karla Rodriguez | STSI
  • Rachel Kroft | Service Designer and User Researcher, CivicActions
  • Alexa Tsui (moderator) | Technik, Inc.

Watch now


5:35 The panel examines a word cloud of “UX words” and talks about the important concepts like Information Infrastructure, Empowerment, Simplicity, Process, and Progress.

12:10 Which aspects of UX in government should people be paying attention to right now? 

“It’s important to look at what has momentum right now, such as the recently passed IDEA Act, plain language standards, and mobile-friendly … it’s easier to get justification for those priorities, so they’re low-hanging fruit.” – Christy Hermansen

“I would like to think about how to bring more policy people and other diverse perspectives into UX teams. We live in an increasingly complex world, so we need as many brains as possible thinking about the core business problems of the agency.” – Rachel Kroft

17:20 Real-life stories of how creatively pursuing users can positively affect outcomes

“Sometimes we don’t have direct access to users, but other people on our team might have that access. We engaged with an understanding Product Owner who had access to these people and she acted by proxy as a ‘user experience researcher’ so we got a better understanding of our users and that helped us improve the product.” – Karla Rodriguez

26:18 Are “personas” a good way to move forward with decisions about what users need, or does persona-building lock user research into a box?

“Personas are a tool. They are useful for certain situations, but you don’t use them for everything.” – Christy Hermansen

“Personas are a tool that can be somewhat polarizing. Some people think they are the best things ever — and they CAN be very powerful — but it’s important to understand which ones we are primarily trying to serve, which are secondary, and so on.” – Jim Lane

32:00 What is something that governments can do right away to start connecting better with users? Are incentives necessary to get customer input?

“It helps to look for what users might value … for example, when I worked with San Francisco Dept. of the Environment, we gave away LED light bulbs when we were seeking input from people.” – Rachel Kroft

“You can create a touchpoint between the brand (your agency) and the customer by giving away things like ‘swag’ that remind the user that you’re working to solve problems that are important to them.” – Karla Rodriguez

37:53 How can we build a culture in government that recognizes the value of experimental activities like user research?

“Inclusivity is important to diffuse the feeling of riskiness. It always feels risky to stakeholders when a team of people is going out to perform some kind of activity that they don’t really understand, so it’s useful to involve stakeholders as much as possible so they can see the value for themselves and better trust the process.” – Rachel Kroft

“Leadership support is a key factor. Getting leadership on board with the value of UX can help spread the concept throughout the organization. It’s also important to make UX activities really foundational in all project activities. You can say you’re doing UX, but you need to make sure it’s ‘right-size’ for actually making products that meet user needs.” – Christy Hermansen

48:54 Have you found ways to attract and keep UX folks on your projects?

“Goals are important for setting up teams to be successful. Make sure that each designer has goals that measurably roll up to product goals; and product goals that measurably roll up to business goals. That way everyone can clearly delineate how their work positively impacts the organization. At the same time, this is a great way to make UX more strategic.” – Jim Lane

53:16 If you have a small team, can UX be a role instead of a person?

“UX should always be at least in the mind of every person on a project, and everyone can participate, but it is also important for someone to own it as a ‘user champion’ to make sure the job really gets done.” – Rachel Kroft

“You can start off with a small team or even just a part time person, and then grow from there as the agency finds value in the UX activities.” – Christy Hermansen


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