Local Digital
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Local Digital

Meet the Local Digital team: Ellen Goodman, User Researcher

In our latest blog series, we’re shining a spotlight on different members of the Local Digital team to showcase just some of the expertise and hard work that goes on behind the scenes.

In this issue, Ellen Goodman explains what it means to be a User Researcher and how retraining has benefited her career.

After joining DLUHC in May 2022, Ellen has become a crucial part of the Local Digital team, helping her colleagues to understand the digital and cyber security needs of local government. Using qualitative and quantitative methods, Ellen conducts comprehensive research to provide valuable insights.

Ellen (middle row, second from the left) with the Local Digital team at their directorate away day

How I began my career

After completing a degree in Japanese, my first roles were in marketing and digital communications at The Royal Academy of Engineering. My responsibilities included developing our online presence to increase reach, engagement and interaction with our various audiences.

After a couple of years at The Royal Academy of Engineering, I joined the Open Data Institute (ODI) as a Community Manager. As a not-for-profit consultancy and research institute, ODI works with companies and governments to improve the way they work with data. My role was a mix of communications, network building and understanding the community’s needs. I thoroughly enjoyed understanding why things were the way they were and how we could improve them and, following a couple of short courses/boot camps in user research and service design, I successfully changed my role to become a User Researcher.

As a User Researcher, I worked on a range of projects across the public and private sector – from making it easier for people to discover sport and leisure activities, to tackling disinformation – and on a range of products and services including data standards, websites and toolkits. I often used the Government Digital Service (GDS) standards to guide and develop my work, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to join the Civil Service!

How my previous experience helps me as a User Researcher

Having a background in communications helps me to share findings in a clear and compelling way, as well as encouraging me to always think about how to connect with my audience, giving a good user-focus to everything I do.

Working across a variety of sectors has provided me with confidence to work on technical topics despite not having the background. It always helps to be a user researcher in those situations as it’s your job to ask ‘why’, so you don’t need to feel silly doing it!

When I moved to Local Digital, I discovered that data and digital/cyber have a lot of similarities. There are no quick wins; tackling the problems involves a lot of work and it’s often hard for people to understand their value, so they don’t always get the investment they deserve.

What I’m working on currently

My main focus at present is supporting the pilot of our Cyber Assessment Framework (CAF) for Local Government. The aim is to build a strong foundation of cyber resilience across local government.

We will be working closely with 10 councils over the next few months to test a Local Government CAF Profile. It’s a really in-depth assessment, which touches on hundreds of points about a council. One of the biggest challenges is the amount of research data we’ll be collecting over the next three months, and how to manage that process effectively.

This is my first time working on a policy design project. Even though a lot of it is new to me, I’m really enjoying it!

The value of research and feedback

I’m a very curious person. I enjoy thinking about why something is done in a certain way, and if it’s possible to improve it. I also enjoy the process of analysing and synthesising research to help the team identify ways to develop our offer for councils. It’s great hearing the value user feedback brings.

Ellen conducting user research at the Local Digital Roadshow in Birmingham

When you see and hear about the impacts of past cyber attacks on councils and understand the challenges they’re facing, you realise how cyber resilience is such a critical area to be working on. I value being part of a project that can have a significant impact on local government, and in turn, residents.

Although it is a challenge, I’m also enjoying the process of learning how to effectively work with the team on the Local Government CAF pilot, and having the opportunity to learn from so many different disciplines.

My advice for others interested in becoming a User Researcher

If you’re interested in user research, there are many ways you can apply it to your job without being a ‘qualified’ user researcher.

You can access free resources to help you plan and run your own research, for example content designer Candi Williams has put together this list of free or low-cost User Experience resources and the Government Digital Service (GDS) has an extensive list of resources, blogs and training courses.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to change your career! I was worried that after establishing a career in communications and community management, retraining would be a step backwards, but there are always so many transferable skills you can apply to a user research role. Retraining could actually take you several steps forward!

Follow our work

The Local Digital team works in the open, and you can read more about the work we do and follow our progress on Twitter, LinkedIn, Sprint Notes, the DLUHC Digital Blog or our fortnightly newsletter. You can also connect with Ellen on LinkedIn.

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Local Digital

Local Digital

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The Local Digital team is part of the UK Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities. Read more about our work: https://www.localdigital.gov.uk.