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User researcher

Find out what a user researcher does and the skills
you need to do the job.

Updated: November 17, 2021

Introduction to the role of user researcher

User researchers plan, design, and carry out research activities with users that help teams gain a deep understanding of the people that use government services. This research informs policy, service, content, and interaction design so that services work well for users and achieve policy intent.

Below you’ll find the full list of skills for becoming a user researcher at Skylight and a description of the skills required for each level. These descriptions offer insight into the scope of work someone at each level should be capable of doing on a consistent basis. We use these role descriptions both as a guide during the hiring process and as a springboard for discussing career progression at Skylight.

Required skills

Analysis and synthesis

You can turn research data into clear findings that inform decisions. You create artifacts that can disseminate this knowledge to stakeholders and colleagues. You know how to involve colleagues in analysis and synthesis to increase consensus and test assumptions.

Inclusive research

You understand the diversity of users of government services. You know how to include all kinds of users in appropriate research activities to help teams deliver accessible services.

Research methods

You understand and have experience with a wide range of user research methods. You can choose appropriate methods for different stages of the product life cycle and situations. You know how to apply methods correctly.

Society and technology

You understand the social and technological context for government services. You can help colleagues understand how digital technology is changing user behavior, and the challenges and opportunities for government services.

Strategic insight

You understand organizational strategy and objectives. You can align user research activities with objectives to create strategic insights that inform policy and program.

Technical understanding

You demonstrate knowledge of the technologies used to build and operate digital services. You understand the different technical roles in a multidisciplinary team.

User-centered and agile practices

You understand user-centered design practices and know how to embed them into an agile workflow to deliver timely findings. You can work in an open, iterative, and collaborative way in a multidisciplinary team.

User researcher career pathway

Associate user researcher

  1. Associate
  2. I not completed
  3. II not completed
  4. Senior not completed
  5. Staff not completed
  6. Principal not completed

As a trainee in an entry-level role, working with more experienced user researchers, you’ll need to have an understanding of the role and show potential, although you’ll need guidance and training to produce good work and develop your skills.

Skills needed for this level

Analysis and synthesis

You know about the need for careful analysis of data to produce clear findings.

Inclusive research

You have some awareness of the diversity of users of government services and the need to make government services useful, usable, and accessible for everyone.

Research methods

You have some understanding of basic user research methods (e.g., user interviews, stakeholder interviews, journey mapping, card sorting, usability testing, competitive analysis, heuristic evaluations).

Society and technology

You’re aware of the social and technological context for government services. You understand the importance of understanding users’ life and work for designing and delivering effective services.

Strategic insight

You’re aware of the need to align user research with business goals to support decision-making and action.

Technical understanding

You have some knowledge of the technologies and roles within a multidisciplinary team that builds digital products.

User-centered and agile practices

You have some understanding of user-centered service design and delivery practices.

User researcher I

  1. Associate completed
  2. I
  3. II not completed
  4. Senior not completed
  5. Staff not completed
  6. Principal not completed

A user researcher I is embedded in a multidisciplinary team to carry out user research activities. At this level, you’ll be expected to:

  • Have some practical experience but need regular guidance and training to produce your best work and develop your skills
  • Work under the guidance of a more senior user researcher

Skills needed for this level

Analysis and synthesis

You understand how to apply basic techniques for the analysis of research data and synthesis of findings. You know how to involve your team in analysis and synthesis. You can present clear findings that colleagues can understand and use.

Inclusive research

You have some awareness of the diversity of users of government services and the need to make government services useful, usable, and accessible for everyone.

Research methods

You understand and have experience of basic user research methods (e.g. user interviews, stakeholder interviews, journey mapping, card sorting, usability testing, competitive analysis, heuristic evaluations). You know when to use those methods and how to apply them correctly. You know how to involve your team in research activities.

Society and technology

You’re aware of the social and technological context for government services. You understand the importance of understanding users’ life and work for designing and delivering effective services.

Strategic insight

You’re aware of the need to align user research with team goals to support decision-making and action.

Technical understanding

You have some knowledge of the technologies and roles within a digital team.

User-centred and agile practices

You have some understanding of user-centered service design and delivery practices.

User researcher II

  1. Associate completed
  2. I completed
  3. II
  4. Senior not completed
  5. Staff not completed
  6. Principal not completed

A user researcher II is usually embedded in a multidisciplinary team and responsible for planning and carrying out user research activities. At this level, you’ll be expected to work independently on a team.

Skills needed for this level

Analysis and synthesis

You understand how to apply basic techniques for the analysis of research data and synthesis of findings. You know how to involve your team in analysis and synthesis. You can present clear findings that colleagues can understand and use.

Inclusive research

You understand the diversity of users of government services and the need to make services useful, usable, and accessible for everyone. You can work with colleagues to include many kinds of users in appropriate research activities.

Research methods

You understand and have experience of basic user research methods (e.g. user interviews, stakeholder interviews, journey mapping, card sorting, usability testing, competitive analysis, heuristic evaluations). You know when to use those methods and how to apply them correctly. You know how to involve your team in research activities.

Society and technology

You understand the social and technological context for government services. You can align user research activities to help your team understand changing user behavior.

Strategic insight

You’re aware of the need to align user research with team goals to support decision-making and action.

Technical understanding

You have some knowledge of the technologies used to build and operate digital services. You understand the different technical roles in a digital team.

User-centered and agile practices

You have some understanding of user-centered service design and delivery practices.

Senior user researcher

  1. Associate completed
  2. I completed
  3. II completed
  4. Senior
  5. Staff not completed
  6. Principal not completed

A senior user researcher is an experienced practitioner who’s able to plan and lead user research activities in larger teams and on more complex services. At this level, you’ll be expected to:

  • Build user-centered practices in new teams
  • Align user research activities with wider plans to inform service design
  • Supervise and develop other user researchers to assure and improve research practice

Skills needed for this level

Analysis and synthesis

You understand and can help teams apply a range of methods to analyze research data and synthesise findings. You know how to engage colleagues and stakeholders in analysis and synthesis. You can advise on choice and application of techniques, and can provide feedback on colleagues’ findings to assure best practice.

Inclusive research

You can help teams understand the diversity of users of government services. You know how to include all kinds of users in appropriate research activities. You can advocate for inclusive practices and help teams design and deliver accessible services that work for all users.

Research methods

You can help teams adopt a wide range of user research methods. You can plan user research for services with challenging user needs and complex user journeys. You can advise colleagues on the choice and application of research methods to assure best practice.

Society and technology

You understand the social and technological context for government services. You can align user research activities to help your team understand changing user behavior.

Strategic insight

You’re aware of the need to align user research with team goals to support decision-making and action.

Technical understanding

You know about the technologies used to build and operate digital services. You can collaborate closely with colleagues in different digital disciplines.

User-centered and agile practices

You have a deep understanding of user-centered service design and delivery practices.

Staff user researcher

  1. Associate completed
  2. I completed
  3. II completed
  4. Senior completed
  5. Staff
  6. Principal not completed

A staff user researcher is an expert practitioner, leading and aligning user research activities across several teams. At this level, you’ll be expected to:

  • Ensure that teams take a user-centered, evidence-based approach to service design and delivery
  • Develop and assure good user research practice

Skills needed for this level

Analysis and synthesis

You can help an organization adopt a wide range of analysis and synthesis techniques. You know how to help an organization continually assure, improve, and innovate their practices to generate clear and valuable findings.

Inclusive research

You can help teams understand the diversity of users of government services. You know how to include all kinds of users in appropriate research activities. You can advocate for inclusive practices and help teams design and deliver accessible services that work for all users.

Research methods

You can help an organization adopt a wide range of user research methods. You can lead a community of practice to help an organization continually assure, improve, and innovate their user research.

Society and technology

You can help teams understand the ways that digital technology is changing user behavior, and the challenges and opportunities for design and delivery of government services.

Strategic insight

You understand organizational goals and challenges. You can align research activities across teams to inform policy and proposition.

Technical understanding

You know about the technologies used to build and operate digital services. You can collaborate closely with colleagues in different digital disciplines.

User-centered and agile practices

You have a deep understanding of user-centered service design and delivery practices.

Principal user researcher

  1. Associate completed
  2. I completed
  3. II completed
  4. Senior completed
  5. Staff completed
  6. Principal

A principal user researcher leads user researchers in an organization and attracts and builds talent. At this level, you’ll be expected to be an expert practitioner who can define and assure best practice, influence organizational strategy and priorities, and collaborate with colleagues across government.

Skills needed for this level

Analysis and synthesis

You can help an organization adopt a wide range of analysis and synthesis techniques. You know how to help an organization continually assure, improve, and innovate their practices to generate clear and valuable findings.

Inclusive research

You can help organizations understand the diversity of users of government services. You know how to guide organizations to adopt inclusive practices and apply what they learn to design and deliver accessible services that work for all users.

Research methods

You can help an organization adopt a wide range of user research methods. You can lead a community of practice to help an organization continually assure, improve, and innovate their user research.

Society and technology

You can align user research activities to help the organization understand changing user behavior, and the challenges and opportunities for government policy and service design.

Strategic insight

You understand organizational strategy and objectives. You can align research activities across the organization to create strategic insights. You can align wider research activities at departmental and cross-government level.

Technical understanding

You know about the technologies used to build and operate digital services. You can collaborate closely with colleagues in different digital disciplines.

User-centered and agile practices

You understand and have extensive experience with a range of user-centered and agile approaches. You can help government organizations adopt user-centered practices and embed them into agile service design and delivery. You know how to advocate for user research across an organization.

Attribution

This content is based on GOV.UK’s Digital, Data and Technology Profession Capability Framework user researcher role, which is licensed under the Open Government License v3.0.

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