Earlier this year I joined the Service Transformation team at Essex County Council as a Junior User Researcher. In this short span of six months, I’ve already made my way through:
- Thousands of digital post-it notes
- Had a team picnic in Chelmsford’s central park (not the usual lunch spot for a Glaswegian)
- Attended the Service Design in Government conference in Edinburgh. I’ve worked on projects within Fostering, Recycling, Children’s Social Care and supported our contracted User Research on their work with the Department for Education.
A warm welcome
There were a few reasons why I decided to apply for the Junior User Researcher role at Essex County Council. After graduating with an MSc in Design for Healthcare following my Product Design undergraduate degree, I was eager to continue working on projects within the public sector. My ethos has always been to use my work to make a positive societal impact, and my ambition was to do this through research.
I always found user research the most engaging part of the design process, where I could work closely with users and form a connection with them to understand their needs. I am constantly fascinated by people and what I can learn from them.
Research was something which I enjoyed but also wanted to learn more about. I wanted to do this while working for a company which offered me extensive training and development to help me grow in my career. After all, as a junior I’m here to learn and I wanted to be in a place where I felt supported while doing this.
Finding the right team was so important to me. Since the first interview, the User Research team were so warm and made me feel at ease, I knew straight away this was a team that I wanted to be a part of. We can all probably agree that starting a new role can be extremely daunting but the support I’ve had from everyone in User Research and the wider Service Transformation team has been amazing, I feel very proud to now be part of it!
In my first 6 months, I’ve had the chance to get involved in some fantastic opportunities to aid both my personal and professional growth:
Service Design in Government Conference, Edinburgh
In November, I attended the Service Design in Government Conference in Edinburgh with other members of the Service Transformation team at Essex County Council. The 3-day conference was packed with inspiring talks, free plants and the star of the show – the 2000-piece jigsaw. Who’d have thought that jigsaws could be a great way of networking!?
While the conference offered numerous positive takeaways, what truly inspired me as a junior in the field was witnessing first-hand examples of the transformative impact that service design can have within the public sector.
Snooks Analysing User Research Data Course
As I began my journey in user research, I was eager to learn more about the nitty-gritty of data analysis, an area where I had less hands-on experience given my design background. While collecting data is one thing, transforming it into actionable insights is where the magic truly happens.
As user researchers, we spend a great deal of our time analysing data. Mastering this skill became a must for me— it’s like our secret weapon for understanding our users and translating their needs into the design of our services. The course has provided me with data analysis techniques to add to my toolkit such as affinity mapping and thematic analysis—two cornerstones in qualitative research.
Following the course, I feel much more confident about diving into data analysis on my own which has motivated me to begin leading on data analysis within future projects.
Mental Health First Aid Training
Completing the Mental Health First Aid Training course was a significant milestone for me in both my professional and personal life. It's given me both the tools and confidence to support colleagues at work who might be facing mental health challenges. But it stretches further than just the workplace, it allows me to be there for friends, family, and loved ones when they need someone to lean on.
Having completed my training, I now feel much more prepared to support those around me through having those important conversations and being able to recognise signs of mental health struggles. Overall, it feels empowering to know I can make a real difference in someone's life when it matters most.
Remote working: Tips and Insights
If we can take away something positive from Covid, it has undeniably been the ability to embrace remote working. In my role at Essex County Council, I’m classed as an Anywhere Worker which means I can do all things user research while working remotely from the comfort of my ‘wee’ home in Glasgow. It’s crazy to think that a few years ago this might not have been possible.
However, I do also enjoy my trips down to Chelmsford County Hall once a month for our Service Transformation team day. When starting off as a newbie this was a perfect chance for me to get to know the team beyond a screen and it’s always nice to have a change of scenery from my usual remote working environment.
As we all know, working from home can get lonely at times, especially when you are living so far away. In the last 6 months I’ve come up with my own survival guide to combat those remote working blues that we can all experience from time to time. Here are my top 3 tips:
1. Create a dedicated workspace
This is arguably the most important one. It can be extremely tempting, especially in the cold winter days, to lie in bed under your duvet and work from your laptop. But one thing I’ve learned is having a dedicated working space which is separate from your chill space is imperative for focus and productivity. If you kit this out with some plants, books and post-it notes, it can feel like your own little office space!
2. Get out and about
Get out at lunchtime. This is something which I make sure I do at least 3 times a week, even if it’s raining – which it does most days in Scotland. It breaks up my day, gets me out in the fresh air and even keeps my dog happy too.
3. Schedule team meetings which are not work related
This is something which we have recently put in place in our User Research team. We have always had our stand ups, and week ahead meetings in place but we decided we needed some time each week to catch up about things outside of User Research.
Taking inspiration from Covid zoom quizzes, we now have our Friday games meetings which is 30 minutes each Friday where we each take turns to host a game. It’s been a great way to bond with the team that you miss when working from home and it’s something which I would recommend to all remote teams.
Conclusion: The journey continues
As I reflect on my first six months as a Junior User Researcher at Essex County Council, I feel so grateful for the experiences, opportunities and support that I have received from the team. I am constantly learning and growing in confidence to evolve both professionally and personally. But this journey of growth is far from over, it's merely the tip of the iceberg. Now that I have passed my probation period, I am looking forward to working towards having more responsibility and leading my own projects. So, here’s to the next chapter of my User Research career at Essex County Council, watch this space!