Understanding who your users are

Platforms are used as building blocks to offer services to the public. The primary users of a platform, therefore, tend not the public themselves, but rather the people and organizations who use them to offer those services to the public. For example, a platform that allows developers to look up a valid address via an API might be used as a component in separate products and services that let the public tax a car, find a hospital or book a hotel.

As such, your team may not have any direct relationship with end-users. However, this does not mean you do not have users. Some user-types it is essential to consider when designing platforms include:

Your platform is part of many services

Your platform will be part of many public facing services. That means any changes you make will affect many different types of user and many different user-journeys. This comes with a responsibility to understand the likely impacts of any changes you make and to work in an open way, so your users can anticipate changes early.

A true platform means you don’t know how it will be used

It is in the nature of a ‘true’ platform that you don’t know exactly how people will use your platform and when they will use it. If someone is going to do something new with your platform, they may not tell you in advance. This is especially true if you have designed for self-service.

Understand “anti-users”

There will also be actors who wish to misuse the platform or the data it holds. It is important to understand their potential motivations and design against them.

Identifying users of Government as a Platform in the UK

Many of us joined the Government Digital Service to work directly on things which matter to users. We realized that, organizationally, our job had shifted to meeting the needs of other civil servants, so that they can meet the needs of their users and, as a consequence of that, public services improve and the quality of people’s experience of the state is transformed.

Citizens are not the only valid users – even GOV.UK itself has a huge number of civil servant users who are using it as a publishing tool.

We needed to start thinking about our users as being service teams around government. Shifting from thinking about making services for citizens to making products for service teams was a tough shift for GDS.

To identify the needs of our users, we did 150 interviews with service teams across government. We identified those teams from service assessments, the GOV.UK performance platform and also the 4,000+ PDF forms that are hosted on GOV.UK. We asked them things like: Tell us about your users? Tell us about the needs you are meeting? Tell us about the needs you can’t meet but would love to meet?

Ben Welby & Will Myddelton - UK Government as a Platform programme 2013 - 2018