On the Global team at USCIS, we create and manage software that helps oﬃcers in the humanitarian immigration space (i.e. Asylum and Refugee claimants) manage, interview, and adjudicate cases as quickly and eﬃciently as possible given the many policy and legal constraints on these systems. Through direct and constant interactions with our users, we’ve responded quickly to changing policies and implement eﬃciencies to our products in a lean and iterative approach that’s based on direct user feedback. In this article, we’re going to illustrate some of the innovative research and design methods we’ve used to better understand our users’ needs and respond with solutions that work for them.
Support as a Starting Point – The Global Interview Notes and Assessment tool (GINA) is one of our most highly interactive and used pieces of software in our portfolio, but it didn’t start out that way. GINA was created a few years ago as a way to replace and improve upon the Microsoft Word-based methods for interviewing applicants and writing assessments for adjudication. As the tool began being piloted, we established support channels in Microsoft Teams that the GINA Team monitored and maintained. Not only were we able to provide incredibly fast support to our early users, but we were able to use this direct and constant feedback to enhance our relationships with our users, learn about and squash bugs in real-&me and use the channel as a forum for quick usability tests. While the application has outgrown its channel, it served as the bedrock for much of the team’s research and design process during the early stages of release.
Onsite Observation – On the Global team, we do a lot of user interviews to better understand our users’ needs and pain points, but nothing beats the added context of observing your users using your product in a real-world environment. In the past few quarters, we’ve been lucky enough to send several members of our product teams out on refugee circuit ride locations around the world so that we can have a holistic understanding of how oﬃcers are using our products and learn about challenges preventing them from an eﬃcient experience. Because of these observations, we’ve responded to problems that go beyond individual product teams, including a better understanding for when and how our applications should connect to each other and uncovering infrastructural and technical IT issues that go beyond product design and management. It’s also added a deeper sense of empathy and understanding for our oﬃcers and what they deal with day-to-day.
Participatory Design – One of the best things about having your users and stakeholders all on the same Teams platform is that it allows you to conduct participatory design sessions with a diverse set of voices for your product. It not only helps to arrive at great solutions for pressing problems, but conducting participatory design sessions with a variety of users and stakeholders helps infuse design thinking into the organization as a whole and makes your users feel heard and understood. After a fun, high energy design studio session, stakeholders will have a better appreciation for the design process, why it works, and what it can do for them in the future.