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Discovering the needs of Civil Servants


Modern organisations need quality internal services as well as external. They can't expect their employees to deliver high quality services if they can't provide them with the same. The tools people use everyday need to help them, not hinder them.

With over 450,000 employees the UK Civil Service realised they needed to do more for Civil Servants.

And, Sir Jeremy Heywood, head of the Civil Service, announced that all internal government services must meet the Digital by Default Service Standard.

To help us draw a picture of what modern digital services for civil servants look like, we ran a discovery to develop a deep understanding of their user needs.


An initial 12 week discovery.

The team consisted of 1 service manager, 1 delivery manager, 2 business analysts, 1 user researcher, 1 designer and 1 developer.

Civil servants are users too

We split the 12 weeks into two 6 week phases.

A close up of a whiteboard with 2 cue cards stuck up. The top car has number 1 user needs on it. The second has number 2 prototypes on it.
Planning out the 2 phases

In the first phase, we went wide, spoke to loads of people and collected as much information as possible.

In the second phase, we explored ideas, refined our insights and painted a picture of what a modern, digital civil service would look like.

2 images joined together. 1 showing people sitting round a table writing on cue cards. A visible card lists out what success criteria is. The second image shows a group of people from across government standing round a whiteboard with lots of post it notes on it.
User need workshops

Phase 1: Uncovering user needs

During the gathering stage we interviewed stakeholders, ran 5 co-creation workshops and ran over 40 in-depth interviews.

These activities helped us gather information about the internal structure of the civil service and the services and systems that are used. We also learnt about the needs and mental models of civil servants, both from the as-is experience and in terms of their future expectations.

A close up of a wall full of colourful post it notes. Each note is a summary of an interview with a user. There are additional post it notes on the summaries with insights and observations from the team.
A wall of findings we collected over the discovery
A window we used to create a living service blueprint. The window panes are used for the 4 themes and then there are a series of swim lanes mapped out with a number of post it notes in each.
A physical, living service blueprint

We processed the information we'd collected, generating a wide ranging set of user needs that we grouped into 4 (or 5 if you include leaving) high-level themes.

The themes represented key stages of a users relationship with the wider civil service organisation and gave us a relatable structure to frame our research and insights around.

3 people stood round a whiteboard deep in discussion. The whiteboard has the 4 stages of a civil servant lifecycle written out with post it notes under each.
Working together to decide what to build

Phase 2: Exploring ideas

We decided together what to build.

We wanted to build something that would cover a thin slice across the 4 themes and allow us to learn more about the key user needs we had uncovered.

Our goal was to end up with a prototype that would showcase the possibilities and be a useful tool for further conversations.

A close up of 3 sketches for a professions page prototype.
Sketches from a co-design session

I ran co-design sessions to seed the solution stage and to generate a series of ideas. As well as generating a broader range of ideas from a wider range of persepctives, I like the potential of co-design to develop a shared ownership of the output.

I built the propositional prototype by zooming in on specific problems, building out sub-prototypes to test an idea and then zooming back out to see how it would fit in an overall experience for civil servants.

Building it in this way meant we frequently had new bits we could put in front of users and test, with what we learnt being fed back into the creation of the rest of the prototypes.

Two people capturing notes on post it notes and sticking them on print outs of screens they have layed out on tables in front of them.
Colleagues capturing feedback from user research sessions
A collage of 5 screenshots showing different screens of the final prototype. The screenshots include a page showing a list of all the jobs a civil servant has applied for and the various status of each application. An admin page summarising employee stats for the whole of the civil service. A page with the last smart performance review of a civil servant. A page summarising the development done by a civil servant, what courses they have lined up and how they are progressing on various learning pathways associated to them. A final page is a profile page for a civil servant showing the days they work, where they are based, skills they have and who their teams is.
Screenshots of the final, joined up prototype


The outputs included

  • A showpiece prototype that can be used to get more support for the programme of work.
  • A set of user needs for internal services.
  • An understanding of the scale of the problem(s).
  • A list of areas primed for further investigation. A number of alphas were kicked off in response to this work.

These tools and insights are the foundations of the on-going transformation of tools used by civil servants and the continued acknowledgement that "Civil Servants are users too".

For example, GDS kicked off work on a cross-government platform for civil servants and "Civil servants are users too" is the premise behind the Services for government users guidance on the GOV.UK Service Manual.

A poster with 'Civil Servants are users too' in big bold text. And 'thats why we are making technology better for everyone' written underneath.
A poster created by Sonia Turcotte