Previously on EU Digital… we’ve talked about our quantitative research: the comprehensive user poll we did in 2014, the more detailed user survey on EU strategy and policy, and analytics. We’ll be doing plenty more of that. But we haven’t yet looked at qualitative research, the process that will finally bring us face to face with the people who use our content.
Linking content to purpose
Qualitative research will put flesh on the bones provided by the quantitative data. From it, we’ll build up a more practical, rich and contextual understanding of what content people need - and what they need it for. This understanding will inform what content we provide, what form we provide it in – and what we leave out.
But we have to make sure we talk to the right users. Misdirected research can be worse than none at all. This is where our quantitative data comes in handy, to tell us which of our customers we need to talk to about what to get a rounded picture of their needs – so we can link content to underlying purpose.
Clarity in the service of value
Without the evidence we’ll collect, we risk writing, debating, polishing, and translating content that doesn’t really meet a need. And we risk using the wrong scenarios to test content and assess our digital products’ performance. For many digital services, it’s obvious how to test success - in terms of products shipped, loans granted or passport applications processed. For the Commission, the bottom line is more complex. So we need to think carefully about how we’ll know when we’ve met a user need. That’s a subject for another day but, for sure, a solid understanding of needs is the starting point.
And greater clarity of purpose will help different parts of the organisation work more collaboratively on content, combining perspectives and material from several sources. Without evidence, reconciling opinions is hard work. With it, we can get straight on with the gratifying business of producing something we’re confident will be valued.
How to do it
Most of our users are geographically distant, spread not just across 28 EU countries but throughout the globe. So face-to-face interviews and field studies will have to be the exception. But once we’ve identified the people we need to talk to, we can start conducting interviews remotely, maybe using screen capture to see how they interact with our digital content in the course of their daily activity. In addition, we’ll examine: search terms (what words bring people to our sites and what do they search for once they’ve arrived?); online feedback; emails and phone calls; social media threads. And we’ll talk to people who come to Commission events.
Armed with all this, we’ll be able to produce some user stories that detail which user profiles want what and for what purpose. Each story will come with ‘acceptance criteria’, a description of how we can check if the needs defined in the user stories have been met. That’s when the quantitative data will come in handy again to rank the user stories in order of importance – so we know what to focus on in creating the content.
And of course we’ll share some of our learnings on this blog.