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OCP’s approach to user research

Deciding how to make open contracting data accessible via a data portal or what to include in a data visualization tool requires deep insights into the users you are trying to help.

For example if you compare the OCP Data Registry to the OCCRP Aleph data platform, they are both data access portals, but completely different in terms of how they work. Why? Because they are responding to very different user needs.

Similarly, for data visualization dashboards, what you display needs to provide users with specific information to help them do their job, needs to help them navigate to the insights they need and also needs to match how they frame their question. No dashboard developer can do this without finding out from users themselves. It also takes a lot more than just asking users “what do you want?” You need user research.

Why is user research so important for open contracting data?

It is not a straight-forward matter to understand who your users are and make sense of their underlying needs, motivations, use cases and then their attitudes, behaviors, confidence with technology and efficacy with data. Without these insights, however, there is a risk that you’ll develop the wrong thing, or that what you develop will be too difficult for users to understand how to use. You can’t make an impact if users either won’t or can’t use your product.

Most user research is concerned with the designing of interfaces. At OCP, we also recognize the additional challenge of understanding how users interact with open contracting data. Making open data usable and understandable is crucial for achieving the step change in how public sector contracting is conducted. If you can’t learn from open contracting data, then you can’t change and improve.

Over the years we have conducted user research as part of every new software development project and then more user research to better understand the people and organizations that we want to support. Just as we believe in the transformational impact of open data, we also believe in sharing our knowledge with the open data community and anyone else that can benefit from the insights of our work.

Introducing the Discovery Toolkit

The OCP team recognizes that conducting user research can be a challenge. Budgets can be tight, timelines can be short and experienced user researchers may not be to hand. That’s why we’ve created the Discovery Toolkit

For the Discovery Toolkit, we’ve gone back through our user research insights in order to open source this knowledge and share it with the open data community. In the Discovery Toolkit, you’ll find the following resources to help you along every step of the way from researching, analyzing, designing and creating requirements for data access portals and data visualization tools, including:

If you don’t have the resources to do your own user research, then via this toolkit you still have the insights from and requirements from us, plus links to numerous examples from around the world that you can use for inspiration.

Our goal is to make public procurement data open, and sharing this toolkit with the open data community helps to achieve that goal. We will continue to add new resources and update the insights from our user research going forward and are keen to hear your thoughts and feedback.

How do you do user research? Have you used the Discovery Toolkit? How has it helped you specifically? Do you have any suggestions for how we can improve it? Let us know at

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