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Why take part in user research with us at the Gambling Commission

Posted 12 May 2021 by Scott McMullen


You may have heard about user research or you may have been asked to take part in a research session for the Gambling Commission, and you might have some questions about it. This blog helps explain how research helps us create better services for people and also answers these questions.

User research

For example, what is user research? Why are we doing it and why should you get involved?

What is user research?

Through user research, when we need to create or make changes to a service – whether that is due to, say, new legislation or because the old version needs refreshing – we ensure these changes meet the needs of the people who use it and supports their goals (according to the gambling legislation).

User research helps us to learn about the people who use our services, their needs and what problems they are and could experience in the future. As a team, we then look to support these needs and remove the problems through our services. Rather than asking peoples’ opinion about a service over a cup of tea, there are well established methods for doing user research so that the information obtained from participants is unbiased and answers the questions the digital team needs answering.

User research isn’t about testing people’s knowledge on gambling regulation or policies and procedures

It’s to help us design and build better websites and services for the people who use them. Whether this is members of the public, licensees, local authorities or other organisations.

The following approaches are some of the ways we’ve done user research.

Usability testing

During usability testing, the digital team observe how people use a service they have designed and potentially improve the service based on the findings.

The process typically runs like this:

  1. We design a prototype, perhaps an update of a current service or a brand-new service.
  2. We recruit participants who are or similar to people who will use the service.
  3. We observe participants doing tasks on the prototype.
  4. Participants talk out loud as they try to do the tasks.
  5. We analyse the information, improve the prototype if necessary, and then go back to step 2.

These sessions can be either face-to-face or run remotely via a video call and often have someone running the session, a moderator.

For more straightforward tasks, usability sessions can be unmoderated, with automated services walking the participant through what they need to do.

We have used usability testing for a variety of services, from improving the Manage and maintain your personal licence service to redesigning the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms website.

For the reducing gambling harms website, we ran remote sessions, asking people who used the previous website to do the tasks they normally did on a new version of the website. From these sessions we extracted data on how to improve the usability of the new design.

One of the problems running usability testing is that people believe we are testing their knowledge and understanding. However, it is built into the method that participants can do nothing wrong: it is the service that’s being tested.

Usability testing using Lookback

Image: An example of what our screen recording sessions look like, including an image of Scott who is leading the session.

Quotes from participants who've taken part

“Working with...the team, I was able to show exactly how I interface with the Gambling Commission’s website and test in a real-world environment the new features which make the website easier to navigate and search.”
Lee Willows, Founder and Chief Executive, Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust.

“I participated in some user research, it really helped to understand the platform I am hoping I will now find valuable to use in the future. The process was supported all the way through and was an extremely positive one. I hope what I said helped and gave some insight into how I would use the site.”
Louise Baxter, Board member, Advisory Board for Safer Gambling.

“It was great to be included in supporting the research team in the designs on the Reduce Gambling Harms website… My feedback was taken on board when some further user designs were suggested to make the journey search even easier for users.”
Hayley Jane Smith, Senior Manager Safer Gambling Standards, GamCare.

“User research is… all about getting feedback from people who use websites on accessibility, ease of use, functionality. The team were friendly, helpful and listened well, which gave me confidence that they took feedback seriously.”
Anna Van der Gaag, Board member, Advisory Board for Safer Gambling.

"I have taken part in several User Research projects and have found the experience positive and enjoyable. As a regular user of the Gambling Commission website and e-services, it has been personally satisfying to make a positive contribution to their further improvement. In addition, I also get the opportunity to shape these services for future benefit for both myself, and my fellow users.”
Steve Mills, Compliance Manager, Tower Lotteries.

User feedback

User feedback allows teams to monitor whether a service continues to work for people using it, whether the questions are posed on a banner on a website or at the end of an application process.

Although this method is based on opinion, it is important to monitor whether the service continues to meet people's needs and, if necessary, change and improve it.

For example, some of you may have filled out the survey after applying for a personal functional licence. The results give us a score along with the opportunity to give feedback of your experience of using the service.

This feedback allows us to continuously improve the service. It is also nice to get comments such as: “Great service, so quick and easy to use."

Semi-structured discussions

Sometimes digital teams need more context to the feedback. Perhaps they want to delve a little deeper into why people were doing certain things within a service. One option would be to run semi-structured discussions and talk to people.

The team would need to plan what they need to talk to people about, keeping a balance between making sure they ask the same questions to each person, and be flexible if they head off on an interesting digression.

For example, we used semi-structured discussions when we were building a new anti-money laundering hub on the Beta website. We reached out to people who regularly accessed that section of the existing site and discussed how we could present our regulatory information around this subject to best support them.

This information meant that the redesign could fit the needs of these people and the resulting part of the site would be easy for them to use.

Why should you get involved in user research?

Good user research helps the digital team create services that:

  • allow people who use them to do what they need to do efficiently
  • are easy and pleasurable to use
  • have been tested with actual people before they go live.

Here are some quotes from the wider digital team in how user research helps them:

“Being able to see and hear real people reading our content out loud shows us when content is or isn’t working for users. This could be anything from seeing a user’s reaction (like a frown), to hearing them ask for an example, or why something is relevant for them? We’re able to see users engaging with our content in real scenarios, for example using their phone in their living room. Each session gives us valuable feedback which we can then use to tweak or iterate our content. User research is essential to ensure users are always first when it comes to content.”
Emma Boden, Content Designer, Gambling Commission.

“The voice of the user is really important when designing services people use on a regular basis. By talking to people, seeing how they use services and getting feedback, this helps us better understand their needs, how they use the services and ultimately determines how we design the service. Recent services we have made available have really benefitted from research feedback and this has been evident in the feedback we have received and also service satisfaction scores.”
Andy Jones, Design Lead, Gambling Commission.

Get involved

We're always looking for participants to get involved in our user research activity.

Register online to join our user research programme.

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