Family Visa Routes is an online service for foreign nationals in the UK who wish to extend their stay in the UK on family grounds (i.e. their partner, spouse, or parent has permission to stay in the UK and they wish to be allowed to stay with them).
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Outcome of Service Assessment
After consideration the assessment panel has concluded the Family Visa Routes service is on track to meet the Digital Service Standard at this early stage of development.
There are some areas which the service team will need to focus on in private beta development which will need to be addressed before the service comes back for a beta assessment.
Research and user needs
The team has made a strong start to their research effort, collecting a body of research data over several months, travelling around the country and finding routes through intermediaries to access this complex and potentially difficult-to-reach audience. The audience is clearly a challenging one to design for:
- diverse demographic and cultural breakdown
- widely varying confidence and ability in use of the internet
- the widespread use of formal and informal intermediaries
- a range of attitudes towards the process and the institutions involved (caution, wariness, fear, etc.)
- time pressures to apply
The data gathered during this fieldwork had informed the development of a detailed set of user needs, a set of personas, and the development of the financial part of the prototype.
The team has an understanding that the service, for many users, does not begin on screen. People speak to those they trust within their local community groups and use them as their first point of guidance around what they need to do next, and how to access and use the on screen service. Based on this, user research has happened in Leeds and Bradford, evidencing how users interact with their community. More of this research should be undertaken during beta, in a systematic way. As above, this research should happen in users’ own environments.
The team were able to demonstrate that they were working in an agile way and that the alpha was being developed iteratively in response to user needs.
The service is being designed and tested to ensure it’s simple and intuitive for users. The design is consistent with GOV.UK and the team have also created some good new interaction patterns.
The team has made a good start to understand user needs for assisted digital support, in particular, conducting research within local communities to gain an understanding of needs, and the factors that impact them. They have identified that some users will not turn to government for support as they fear this may impact their application - as this has been identified as a key concern, the team must continue to explore these barriers and complete further research with assisted digital users during beta.
The service has a challenging 80% digital take up target to meet, and will explore promotion of the digital service through key identified community groups in order to meet this target.
Research and user needs
While the team has made a strong start to user research during the alpha, there are some area which need to be addressed before coming back in for a beta assessment:
- develop a robust and systematic profile or segmentation of the audience, based on qualitative and quantitative data, which includes attitudinal and demographic dimensions
- develop a research plan which addresses each audience sector to increase the range and depth of research data
- use independent third parties as necessary, to systematically recruit participants from across these audience sectors, including those who are hard-to-reach or who are wary of taking part in Home Office research
- recruit potential-applicants (and their intermediaries) to take part in user research - to reduce the effect of the inevitable pre-learning of the process by existing applicants
- ensure that research locations are chosen so that they do not form a barrier to participation (e.g. some sectors may be wary of coming to Home Office premises)
- refine and validate the user need statements and personas using wider research data (currently the personas are based on single interviews rather than on recurring patterns of need and behaviour seen across multiple interviews)
- recruit further users with the lowest level of digital skills
- explore a full range of support options, based on the wide range of assisted digital user needs already identified (and including any new ones) and complexity of the service
Sustainability of support
Support provided by third parties or friends and family, must be sustainable. The service must ensure that assisted digital support will be funded through the service, and that people will not have to pay providers for support or, for example, through premium rate telephone numbers.
The team are reusing internal components from other visa application processes. Many of the components are shared with other teams in Home Office Digital. None however are open source. There is a program reluctance to share code for security/fraud prevention reasons. Whilst the team appreciates these concerns, the panel would ecourage a much stronger commitment to open source across the program. Even if the actual rules are kept closed source, the underlying engine could be opened. Additionally patterns around adapters to external systems - for example payment providers - could be shared.
The existing platform is being reused for this system, which provides most of the infrastructure and deployment capabilities. Having recently undergone a procurement of the technical team there is a concern about platform ownership and continuity. Additionally the analyst role was shared with other services and the service manager role was being filled on a temporary basis. This needs to be addressed to ensure a more sustainable team is in place for the beta.
The service uses several outdated design patterns - such as the progress bar, application menu and user flow - which is due to the team reusing components from the other visa application processes. This is fine in alpha, but during beta the design needs to be updated to reflect the latest cross-government design patterns. The team has also created some good new interaction patterns (such as the ‘return to application’ flow) which the panel would encourage them to contribute to the cross-government design hackpad.
The service is on track to meet the service standard. The team have done some good work during alpha to understand user needs. The existing family visa application is paper based, very long and difficult to understand. There was clear evidence that the digital service is significantly simpler and clearer for users. The alpha has been developed in an agile way and the team was able to demonstrate that improvements have been made to the design of the service to meet user needs. The team provided examples where they have worked with policy to simplify the design of the service in response to feedback from users. We would encourage the team to continue this work.
Digital Service Standard criteria