One Team Gov User Research Unconference

Find out more about the event that took place at GDS Academy in Leeds on 14 May.

Rochelle Gold
May 23, 2019 · 7 min read
Our t-shirt, lanyard, pens and post-it note set up at the One Team Gov user research unconference.

The user research unconference was born out of a need identified at our Leeds One Team Gov breakfasts. We noticed that there were lots of people attending who are just starting out early in their career or were new to conducting user research, many of whom are in organisations where they do not have a community to go to for support.

We were finding that a lot of the topics discussed at breakfast were about user research practice, and there seemed to be a gap for a local, cross-organisation community of practice, somewhere that people know they can go to for advice.

We decided to test having a user research “open surgery” in the form of an unconference. The agenda was set on the day by attendees and the aim was to provide a supportive, safe space for people to get advice from other user researchers about how to approach research and overcome barriers they might be facing in their practice.

We sent out one tweet to let people know what we were doing and had so many people contact us within 24 hours that we filled our spaces twice over! We arranged to have a second room but still had to apologise to some people as we were at capacity.

21 people attended, and, after introductions and other event formalities, we got stuck into creating the agenda.

Standing up in front of a lot of strangers to pitch an idea for a session can be hard for some people, and we wanted to make sure that everyone felt that they could contribute and get support. So we asked people to write their topics on post-it notes and put them on the wall.

Tweet by @amy_everett_ showing all the topics that the group pitched on the day. See also the full list of themes below and full list of topics at the end of this post.

People wanted to talk about a range of different topics, but we managed to group them into six broad themes:

  1. Inclusive participant recruitment
  2. How to know when to stop doing research
  3. Influencing others about user research
  4. How to scope/focus research
  5. User research methodology
  6. Communicating user research

We found that whether you have a little or a lot of experience as a user researcher, you can learn from others – no one person will ever know all the answers.

People, irrespective of organisation or experience, are struggling with the same issues and as a group we can be a great support for each other. Together, we can be a source of knowledge and work as a collective to overcome these challenges.

We learnt that the unconference format worked really well and that people found the event useful, but would have liked an even longer session and want us to do more.

Post-it notes showing feedback from attendees about what they liked

There were lots of suggestions for the future — people told us that they want more of this!

We are going to run another, longer, event to allow people more time to talk, feedback, knowledge share and get to know each other.

We are also thinking of ways that we can help the group to link up outside of the sessions.

Post-it notes showing suggestions from attendees

Thanks again to everyone who turned up and got involved at the first One Team Gov Leeds user research unconference.

Rochelle and Lisa

Useful information

We said that we would share a blog post with the aim of supporting other people working in this area. Here, we include useful links that were mentioned and the full list of topics that were pitched on the day. #oneteamgovnorth #leeds-breakfast

Topics pitched

  • Digital inclusion — is we research and testing.
  • Establishing and sustaining effective user networks.
  • Specifically recruiting LGBTQ+ people in research.
  • Access needs and user testing.
  • Best practice for researching users with learning disabilities.
  • Recruitment — how do we ensure we have a diverse group?
  • How do you reach people who aren’t engaged in public services?

Stop theme

  • How much research is too much — when to move forward?
  • When do you decide you have enough research? Can you ever have enough?
  • When is enough research?

Influencing theme

  • What stages to get different stakeholders involved?
  • Selling the benefits of UR to stakeholders.
  • How much of your work is at all dictated by programmes you work within?
  • Influencing teams to take user research seriously!
  • Persuading teams they need to do user research upfront, not when they realise they will be assessed.
  • Convincing management to put a researcher on my team.
  • Getting stakeholders who ‘know what users need’ to let the research show us what to do.
  • Getting people to trust that researchers “know their s***”
  • Getting devs to buy in to ‘2 hours every 6 weeks’

Scope/focus theme

  • Narrowing to a manageable scope (appointments eforms, adult social care)
  • How do you define the scope of your research?
  • Keeping things focus — avoid following every trail.

Methods theme

  • Key techniques every user researcher should know.
  • User research methods?
  • Conducting guerrilla research — ethics and conduct, best practice.
  • Different user research techniques?
  • Understanding statistical significance.
  • Best way to decide how to approach user research.
  • Opinion / intention vs behaviour.
  • How to craft sessions to encourage people to talk about their real experiences rather than what they think you want to hear?
  • Knowing the right questions to ask in research.
  • Tips on planning.
  • Next steps after gathering user research.
  • How to make sense of user research? Any tips for prioritising?
  • Optimum sizes for discussion groups to eliminate ‘groupthink’ and get genuine responses and input.
  • Research with paper processes.
  • Lighter approaches when you don’t have time for loads of field work.
  • Different analysis methods.

Communication theme

  • To attain stakeholder buy in, need headlines, so articulating outcomes (align with OBA?)
  • How can we be more open about things that go wrong?
  • Cost savings.
  • Share the good stories too!
  • How do we share the impact of research?
  • Communicating research.
  • Measuring the baseline.
  • How to undertake effective review and evaluation.
  • Create an ‘as is’ journey map.
  • What are the benefits?
  • How to share your research internally and/or externally.
  • What’s the impact of new digital services?
  • Share research findings face-to-face.
  • Colleagues (customers of my work)
  • Senior management teams.


  • User research in a multi-disciplinary team, user research and service design — are these distinct two roles?
  • How do you get overview of research in a massive organisation across gov?
  • Interested in hearing how user research has positively helped other organisations.
  • Top user research skills for non-user researchers who have to do it as an add on to their role.
  • How to document (any specific systems used)?
  • General hints/advice/tips from what others have learnt!
  • Day in the life of a user researcher (well established)
  • Use of readability formula / checkers
  • User research insurance?
  • Keeping your skills sharp in other areas when you’re only doing one user research type.
  • Researching content.
  • What level of autonomy do user researchers have to ‘do research’?
  • Journey maps.

Attendee feedback


  • Not London! :-) x2
  • Great venue / facilities :-)
  • Really enjoying the format of the sessions :-)
  • More events like this please! :-)
  • Really good to learn about others’ experiences and learn from these.
  • Interactive.
  • Loved the format.
  • Really beneficial session — learning from others has been insightful and useful.
  • Unconference format = brilliant!
  • In Leeds.
  • Lots of potential to establish a working network
  • Friendly feel.
  • Resources available to look at after the session.
  • Please add me to the mailing list….
  • Great to hear other people’s stories — positive and negative.
  • Super energetic event organisers — felt at ease and able to open up straight away!
  • Good learning experience
  • Great facilitation — made sure everyone involved.
  • Fab format — going to ‘steal’ for similar events :-) Thank you.
  • Meeting folks with similar struggles.
  • Would love more sessions either the same or longer / same of different people!
  • Really helpful! Please run again! :-)
  • Great vibe! Thank you :-)

Not so good

  • It would have been useful if the session was longer.
  • Only 2 hours long.
  • Didn’t see it advertised — heard it through word of mouth.


  • Would have been really useful to have more sessions like this.
  • More please :-)
  • More time to feedback from each session?
  • Time slots — 8am-10am?
  • Slack channel to start a community of practice?
  • Keeping in touch as a group?
  • Make it longer! :-)
  • Future dev — for smaller orgs ie charities.
  • Facilitator for each of the groups.
  • Relate specifically to providing advice on ongoing work.
  • Would like the sessions to continue / be longer. Sit in on more conversations.


Better Government by Design


We’re a global community, working together to radically reform the public sector through practical action. We’re driven by optimism and the desire to make things better, and united by a set of core principles.

Rochelle Gold

Written by

Head of User Research @NHS Digital. Views my own.


We’re a global community, working together to radically reform the public sector through practical action. We’re driven by optimism and the desire to make things better, and united by a set of core principles.