Working with the Student Immigration Service to improve the student experience around applying for visas
We’re in the middle of a project to enhance the digital experience for students using the Student Immigration Service. In this post, I recap how we’re running the project and what we learned in the discovery phase.
The Student Immigration Service (SIS) helps international students get their visas to study at the University. They also help students with any immigration matters that come up during their studies.
The UK immigration process is very complex and bureaucratic. As such, it can be a confusing and intimidating experience for students, many of whom will be moving country for the first time and for whom English is not their first language.
Since January, we’ve been working with the Service on a project to enhance their website content and enquiry channelling related to the most central part of the immigration process: applying for a Student visa.
Goals of the project
Our goals of the project are to:
- improve the digital experience of prospective and current students using the Service
- encourage greater levels of self-service, reducing unnecessary enquiries
These goals are connected. By improving the content on the SIS website, student will be able to find the answers to their questions, and therefore reduce the number of enquiries the SIS team have to deal with.
Agile scrum methodology
We’re following agile scrum methodology for this project. This means we work in sprints, 2- to 3-week bursts of work where we focus on delivering an agreed set of tasks.
Working in sprints means that we can:
- prioritise working on the most important issues students face first
- release new content and features as frequently as it is pragmatic to do so
- regularly reflect on our ways of working and improve them for future sprints
Double Diamond design process
Alongside agile scrum methodology, we are following the Double Diamond design process. This process structures how we go about designing new content.
The process goes through 4 stages:
- discover what is happening in the problem space
- define what the main problems are
- develop solutions to fixing those problems
- deliver the solutions that work best
As such, for the start of the immigration project, we did some discovery into what was happening with students who apply for visa.
Our discovery work (sprints 1 and 2)
To find out about the Student visa process, we did the following activities:
- Interviews: We conducted 13 interviews in total with a mix of staff from the Student Immigration Service, the International Recruitment team, the Enquiry Management team and students who had applied for visas to study at Edinburgh.
- Enquiry analysis: We reviewed the stats and trends from email and webform enquiries to the Service for one year.
- Website analytics: We reviewed the most viewed content on the website and used a site crawl tool to assess the quality of the content.
What we learned
What we learned in the discovery phase set the direction for the rest of the project.
The issues to prioritise in the project
While we knew we were going to focus on visa application process content, the research helped us prioritise the content areas we would work on first. Specifically, we wanted to tackle areas that generated the most enquiries or we could see caused the most confusion for students.
For this project, the number 1 prioritised area was the process around getting a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS). This is a reference number students need to be able to apply for a visa.
It repeatedly came up in our research that students were looking to know:
- how long it takes to apply for a CAS
- when they can apply for a CAS
- once they apply, when they will receive their CAS
Turning the issues into a backlog of work
CAS, along with other areas we saw come across strongly in the research, formed the basis of a backlog of content topics to work through in the development sprints.
I will be covering our work in these areas in future posts.
How we could work better
At the end of our discovery phase, we had our first sprint retrospective. These sessions allow the team to share:
- what we thought went well in the sprint
- what we thought could be improved
- ideas for how to improve future sprints
As this was our only discovery sprint of the project, many of our lessons learned will help with future discovery work in other projects.
However, we did get some useful takeaways in the overall running of the project, such as how we best use our project management tool at our daily check-in meetings and a desire to schedule in-person collaborative work.
My team and I will be sharing more on how our development sprints went and our ways of working in our future posts.