We recently completed the process of connecting certified companies to GOV.UK Verify under the new framework for certified companies. As a user researcher, my main focus in this process was how we ensure that these companies provide services that meet the needs of our users.
This presented some interesting challenges for us:
- How do we ensure quality, whilst still encouraging innovation and differentiation?
- How do we apply the principles of user centred design to a contractual framework for ensuring quality?
Ensuring quality and encouraging innovation
Identity providers are independent companies. We can’t - and don’t want to - tell them how to design their products. Instead, we set standards for the quality of the experience they offer our users.
Before each company connected to GOV.UK Verify as a certified company, they had to show that they had met these standards.
Contractually enforcing the quality of user experience in this way is new to government, so we had to build a framework to do this from scratch. Our goal was to make sure that each certified company was:
- learning from the depth and breadth of research and design expertise within GOV.UK Verify and GDS
- developing designs based on user research
- building accessible products
- building products that our users would be able to use
A framework for improvement
Before they connected, all of the certified companies went through a series of contractual checks we called ‘gates’. Each of these examined what they were doing at an increasing level of detail. The gates were:
Provision of a usability testing strategy: First, each company had to show that their development followed a user centred approach, informed by research with a representative sample of users.
Prototype user journey review: Mock-ups of each company’s verification process was then checked by the Verify team, to make sure that it followed published design patterns, or where they deviated from these, that the identity provider could produce evidence that it was not problematic for users.
Attendance at GDS usability testing sessions: Finally, each provider attended a round of usability testing where real users of the service used the product. This testing was conducted by the GOV.UK Verify team, to make sure it was both consistent and independent.
Response to issues: Before they were able to go live, each provider had to resolve every single issue that had been identified as they went through the gating process.
What did we achieve?
It’s been hard work, but we’re really happy with what we’ve achieved. All of the certified companies have made significant improvements to their products and some have also altered their development processes in response to what they’ve learnt.
What we’ve learnt doing this is that government can, and should, write contracts that require providers to meet a threshold for usability, and that doing so is a powerful tool to drive improvements for the people that use those products.