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Keeping in touch with the latest in User Research

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Image of attendees sitting in groups at tables having discussions


When you’re working in the User Research (UR) community for a government department that handles more than 2 billion transactions a year, with more than 9 out of 10 of these taking place online, you need to stay abreast of research ideas and methods to help design services which meet the needs of our millions of customers. So, last month, we held our second annual UR meet up, #ResCon2019, where over 90 professional user researchers, contractors and undergraduate industrial placements came together to hear from a number of invited external speakers, all experts in their field of UR.

Image of the red lanyards used at the conference


The theme of this year’s conference was Storytelling. Through a mix of talks and workshops, we were encouraged to think about the individuals we interact with from a variety of lenses and perspectives, as well as thinking about how to communicate appropriately and how to change the way our audience thinks. The varied topics covered a myriad of different insights, experiences and invaluable knowledge into the UR role of storytelling.

Image of a speaker standing in front of an audience with a large screen behind them

We kicked off our event by hearing from some of our design partners, who reminded us of the need for an engaging but simple story telling with clear evidence and evaluation.  This included understanding how individuals under pressure to succeed through meeting targets can ignore advice, with varying degrees of awareness, in favour of their own beliefs or can be blind to any evidence highlighting areas of concern.  The point was reinforced through citing a blog (Krugg-Jarret, 2012) with the number one reason why problems go unfixed being that they

conflicted with the decision maker’s belief or opinion.

The cognitive theme continued, with a call not to forget something that should be obvious

remind the audience that they are not the user

and advice on how to convey research findings without overloading your audience in order to provoke empathy.


The two-day conference included four highly engaging interactive workshops, which helped us to understand and synthesise our new knowledge.  The sessions included tasks ranging from understanding and identifying mindsets, breaking through cognitive constraints to innovate, through to story telling using discrete sequential events and storyboards. The room became very animated during these sessions, which is a sure sign that the tasks were thought provoking and encouraged us to be mindful of our audience and how we can communicate effectively.

Image of an attendees drawings as part of a workshop session

Day 2 included a talk from George Papatzanis, our Head of User Research, on how much our community had developed over the last year and the importance of our UR to HMRC. George was followed by Antony Collard, Director of Architecture and Innovation, who also emphasized the role of UR in achieving the business strategy and vision, including capabilities of future technology, such as AI.

We finished off with an award ceremony to recognise and celebrate many of our achievements over the past year.

Image of two attendees, one presenting an award to the other

Take away

All the speakers emphasized the need to get our stakeholders on board. They provided various recipes for storytelling throughout the conference, each highlighting ingredients that contribute to success in storytelling and audience understanding, such:

  • be creative
  • set the scene
  • identify the problem
  • provide evidence
  • keep it simple
  • observe distinct events
  • personalise the user
  • make it memorable
  • identify payoffs
  • don’t disregard the belief of another

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to attend, in addition to the excellent speakers and workshops, it was great to meet and work with the rest of the community face to face.

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