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Discovering user profiles

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: GOV.UK

Photo montage of many faces

Following the ‘discovering how people work’ blog post we received questions about the content of the profiles we created. Working with the Home Office we wanted to investigate what their staff need from technology; and see if they could be grouped into profiles that could be re-useable for other departments. This work could then benefit other departments through the ability to streamline their technology transition projects. Here’s how our research and analysis developed into seven profiles.

What we did

Our discovery period lasted several months and included nearly 400 interviews. We focused on the differences in how people work, the context of that work, and which aspects influenced their working environment.

We wanted to express the complexity of the department and stop describing people by their grade or with terms such as a “mobile worker” or a “customer facing worker”. How a job is done, or the technology required to do it, is rarely confined by these descriptions. The profiles enable us to describe tasks and requirements regardless of grade or job title.

What we discovered

We started discovering the common threads between different jobs, job descriptions, and teams. We focussed on how staff did their job and what they needed to do it well. Do they need to talk to someone? Do they need to create something? Do they need to use anything specific to do that?

By asking these questions we concluded that there are six dimensions which could be applied when describing how Home Office staff work.

  1. Mobility: how mobile do they need to be at work to get their job done? Does it involve one location or many?
  2. Interactions: who do they need to talk to to get their job done? How many people are engaged in the interactions and how broadly these go?
  3. Time criticality: how quickly do they need to respond to queries and last minute changes/questions?
  4. Standard applications use: what kind of tools do they need to use?
  5. Departmental applications use: what kind of departmental tools do they rely on?
  6. Security classification: what level is needed?

We knew from the beginning that defining a specific profile would take a combination of dimensions to indicate staff’s technology needs. Someone who is very mobile may also need constant access to departmental tools, which is different from someone who is very mobile but needs non-standard tools and permanent contact with the public. These were the kind of intricacies we wanted to discover.

The profiles

We’ve summarised the profiles identified for the Home Office below.

Behind the scenes:

These staff perform clearly defined (often complicated) procedures that have to be followed precisely.

They usually work in one place (a fixed desk or hot-desk). They spend most of their time inputting and manipulating information within specific line of business applications rather than off the shelf software. Working from home or remotely is not typically possible, and they rarely work outside of office hours.

Office everywhere:

These staff are office-based but often move around, predominantly for meetings with colleagues or external stakeholders. They regularly work from home and other remote locations.

They are heavy users of standard productivity tools. They interact with their team, the wider department and sometimes externally, though rarely with the public. They require their tools to be reliable and convey a professional image of their department, especially when presenting their work outside of government.

Out and about:

These staff are often on the move without regular access to office facilities or mobile technology. They frequently conduct field work in all manner of environments and locations, and keep in touch with their team by telephone. They often have to access and capture information instantly.

They collaborate with a wide variety of people both internal and external to the Home Office as part of investigations or in fieldwork activities. They are heavy users of standard productivity tools and often require specialist programs.

Speedy checkers:

These staff move often, carrying their technology between locations. They interact with the public daily and often make snap decisions based on information available to them at that moment.

'Speedy checkers' may conduct checks of goods/places/people and simultaneously consult live systems. They often require full access to line of business systems even when outside HO locations. When these are not available they rely on calling the office to request checks. A lack of remote network access means many roles rely on printing before any operational work is started.

Front of house:

These staff are based in one location gathering information (e.g. from visa applicants) and process it for further evaluation by other teams. The use of interview rooms and booths for public engagement requires widespread hot-desking. Some work is shift based, rotating staff 24/7, and there is little opportunity to work at home.

Staff spend much of their time in line of business applications and are reliant on these functioning well. The roles are often customer facing, and the real time gathering and processing of data is critical. Some staff need to communicate widely outside their immediate team.


These staff develop and manage digital services or perform in-depth data analysis. They are sophisticated IT users, accustomed to managing the configuration of their own devices. They often need access to coding environments and visualisation and modelling software. For this they require large or multiple screens.

They’re mainly at fixed desks but are sometimes mobile to engage with contractors and Civil Servants outside of the Home Office. They either work with high specification devices or struggle with the main IT system.

Always on:

These staff are highly responsive to all information they receive through multiple channels. Quick data evaluation to pass to the relevant person/team is required. They are advanced email users and need constant access to specific applications for processing and storing information.

'Always on' staff split their time between fixed desks and being highly mobile. They work outside standard office hours, and always have to be reachable and respond to any requests.

What happens next

This is just the start of our research. We want to understand whether the information contained in the profiles is accurate and useful. Could we use it to apply common profiles across government departments? Will we be able to provide departmental profiles of what staff require, making the right kit cheaper and more flexible to obtain? If we can, we will meet user needs more effectively than assuming one type of kit or set of applications is good for all.

You’ll be able to follow our work on this blog, the Government Technology blog and the Home Office Digital blog. If there are any departments and agencies looking to start or expand on their own user research in technology you can contact us via

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  1. Comment by Naomi Lees posted on

    Interesting post. The email link doesn't appear to work though 🙁

    • Replies to Naomi Lees>

      Comment by Louise Duffy posted on

      Hi Naomi, I just tested the email address and it seems to be working fine so you might want to try again. If not, we can pass your details on to someone at CTS.