Give a brief overview of your organisation.
I work within the Digital Group at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as a Lead User Researcher. The Department is responsible for welfare, pensions and child maintenance policy. As the UK’s biggest public service department, we administer the State Pension and a range of working age, disability and ill health benefits to around 20 million claimants and customers.
User Research is one of the roles that sits within the Digital, Data and Technology profession in the Civil Service. Job families within the profession include data, IT operations, product and delivery, quality assurance, technical and user centred design. User researchers are usually embedded in service teams and their role is to help teams learn about their users and ensure that services that are being developed meet the users’ needs. They do research with users to understand the problem which the organisation and team is trying to solve and to find out the users’ needs, drawing on different methods and approaches to do that. Services designed around user needs are more likely to be used, help more people get the right outcome and cost less by reducing time and money spent on resolving problems so we are also supporting and meeting business needs.
We have around 100 user researchers working in DWP Digital, many of whom are embedded in product and service teams, covering all of the main areas we are responsible for, including Universal Credit, Health and Disability, Retirement, Bereavement and Care, Child Maintenance and Fraud Error and Debt. There are also researchers working on teams to ensure that the equipment, software and systems that our 90,000 staff use meet their needs and are the most effective and efficient they can be, so they can focus their time on supporting citizens.
As a Practice Lead, I am jointly responsible for developing the standards and processes to ensure a consistent and high-quality approach to the research is adopted. Among other things, I am also responsible for learning and development for the user research community, ethics and safeguarding, recruitment and professional mentoring of our researchers.
Are you aware of postdoctoral researchers employed in your organisation?
We have had and continue to employ a number of postdoctoral researchers in the user research community. They bring strong research skills and have been successful in applying those skills in a more agile environment.
The entry level into research is as an Associate User Researcher, which is Higher Executive Officer (HEO) level. For this level, we look for people with some knowledge and understanding of research, but they may not have extensive experience of leading on, designing and conducting their own research projects or being able to evidence how research has been implemented and acted upon. Depending on the type of research undertaken, this may be the most appropriate entry level.
The next level is as a User Researcher, which is the Senior Executive Officer (SEO) level in the Civil Service hierarchy and a number of postdoctoral researchers have been successful in applying to these roles. At this level, we look for people with more applied research skills and experience and researchers who are able to evidence how their research has had an influence or impact on others.