Collaboration is key – working with the Student Immigration Service to improve their website
Between January and May 2022 we were working with the Student Immigration Service (SIS) on a project to enhance their website content. In this post, I recap the excellent working relationship we developed with SIS, including how we collaborated, the benefits and lessons learned.
The SIS project aimed to improve the student experience when dealing with immigration matters, visa applications and coming to the UK.
We also worked with the Service to enhance their enquiry channelling. Our goal was to improve the content on the website, with the aim of reducing the number of enquiries sent to SIS.
The difference a good collaboration can make
When we collaborate with departments on projects, we work hand-in-hand with them throughout the project lifecycle. We do this because it will ultimately lead to better outputs and outcomes.
At the beginning of a project, early engagement ensures colleagues’ buy-in. They know what to expect and have input into the direction of our work.
During the project, we get the best of content and subject matter expertise. Combining our content skills with a department’s knowledge of the subject area results in the creation of both accurate and user-focused content.
With a good working relationship made during a project, going forward, we can regularly meet with our collaborators to assess the impact of our content changes and improve.
Our project with SIS saw us collaborate from conducting user research through to delivery of new website content. Through every step of the project, we worked together closely to create a better user experience for students using their service.
The ways we collaborated during the project and the benefits
Kicking off the project to align on research priorities
We started our close working relationship with SIS right from the moment the project began. We held a kick-off workshop where we both:
- took the team through our ways of working in an agile scrum project so they knew what to expect and why we were working the way we did
- got the team to run through activities to share their audiences and audiences’ needs
We then worked to prioritise the audiences and needs, which formed an area to focus on for our subsequent research.
Interviewing team members during our discovery phase
After the kick-off workshop, the project started with a discovery phase to explore what worked well and what did not, which included interviews with SIS immigration advisers and administrators. We asked them what students commonly ask when applying for visas, including how enquiries vary by student groups and time of year.
It was important to get their input because they could give us a more holistic and generalised overview of the pain points students experience, compared with our individual interviews with students.
Identifying priorities and planning the sprints
After our research was done, we used the insights to work with SIS to prioritise which pain points to address in our content development work.
At the beginning of each sprint we agreed which problem areas to focus on and refined the user stories related to those areas. User stories were our way of capturing the tasks students needed to do when applying for visas, and thus, what our content needed to answer.
SIS’s active involvement at the planning stages of each sprint brought everybody onto the same page and provided the opportunity to identify the subject matter experts and sign-off contacts for the topics.
Pair writing and reviewing the content
When it came to creating content, we worked very closely with the subject matter experts in SIS to both pair write and review content together. Through doing this we:
- clarified processes and terminology with the SIS team
- got feedback on our proposed content layouts and structures, before even testing
- ensured the accuracy of our content through their subject knowledge (this is especially important when writing about immigration rules that can impact on the lives of visa applicants in a significant way if they misunderstand something)
We also invited SIS to playbacks of our usability tests of new content. These playbacks were followed by further reviews, where we worked together to refine our content to address issues seen in testing. As such, we made use of pair writing right from initial drafts through to publishing content.
Signing off the content
Before publishing anything, SIS needed to sign off any content changes that were going live.
Because we had cooperated so closely during the sprint, this significantly reduced the time required for the actual sign-off process. At this stage only minor adjustments to the content, if any at all, were necessary.
Giving feedback at retrospectives
At the end of a sprint, the SIS team attended our retros. Retros gave both sides the chance to reflect on the sprints and to identify opportunities for improvements for the next part of the work.
By inviting SIS to these, we made sure their views were taken into consideration and their needs were met in subsequent sprints.
What we learned
Through the project and the retros, we learned some lessons in what worked best about our collaboration and where we needed to improve.
Regular check-ins ensure that we are on the right track and address questions early
We arranged calls with SIS during each sprint when we needed to write content with them or had content to share. These calls allowed us to check our understanding of the content and to raise questions about it in the early stages. If needed, SIS had time to consider details about the content between calls.
While meeting regularly worked great, we learned it was time-consuming to constantly check diaries and schedule our check-in calls. Going forward, we decided we would pre-schedule our check-ins at the beginning of a sprint.
Sending content for sign-off in batches on agreed days can help managing the workload
In our second to last sprint, we sent all the content we had worked on in one batch to SIS for sign-off. However, because we were working on multiple content areas, it was time intensive for SIS to sign off all of it at once.
Going into our final sprint, where we were working on even more pieces of content, we wanted to trial sending content for sign-off in multiple batches.
Providing collated sign-off material, rather than sending in dribs and drabs, reduced the number of emails they received. Everybody involved knew when the sign-off would be sent as well as the anticipated turnaround time. This helped to keep the project on track and to publish new content in line with the timescales.
In our final retro, SIS made a point of mentioning that they appreciated this approach.
You can read more about the work we did in our immigration project in our posts on this blog.