The guide 1. Plan

Understand user needs

Develop a deep understanding of your users and the problem you’re trying to solve for them.

Why it's important

Users are the people expected to use the product or service you are commissioning. Doing research on their needs will help ensure that you:

  • test any assumptions you have about your users
  • ensure there is a valid need for what you are procuring
  • make services better value and cheaper to run in the long term

What it means

User research means finding out what people are really trying to do, and the real problems they experience trying to get something done. This can involve some or all of the following activities:

  • interviewing people about how they use a product or service
  • watching how users work through a given task, ideally at their workplace
  • inviting users to take part in a focus group
  • using analytics to find out what users do on a website
  • commissioning user research on a sample of citizens

Unless you have a clear idea of who your users are you should research with a diverse range of users with a mix of ages and backgrounds. You should also consider how to include people who need help using computers or other digital services.

Always ask for consent when doing user research and be clear on how you will use people’s data. Where possible hire a professional user researcher to ensure research is carried out responsibly.

Once you have some research you can look for patterns in user behaviour and, in particular, any frustrations users have. This will help you write appropriate outcomes for your procurement based on valid needs.

Do’s and don’ts


  • test any assumptions you have about your users before you write your requirements
  • research with a diverse range of users, ideally where they use a product or service
  • ensure that user needs are worked into your plan


  • do not collect data about users without their consent

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