NHS Covid-19 app digs into design and user experience in £200k research drive

Written by Sam Trendall on 7 June 2022 in News

UKHSA awards two contracts to specialist firms

Credit: Hackney Council/Open Government Licence v3.0

Authorities have committed £200,000 to undertake research and testing with the aim of making the NHS Covid-19 contact-tracing app more inclusive, accessible and user friendly.

On 1 April, the UK Health Security Agency entered into six-month contracts with two specialist firms: Fluent Interaction and Open Inclusion. 

Newly released commercial documents reveal that Fluent will receive up to £120,000, plus VAT, to deliver “regular qualitative user research sessions” intended to explore users’ experiences with the NHS Covid app. Input will be sought from both existing and potential users of the technology and, if required, the firm will also advise UKHSA on potential improvements to the design and functionality of the program.

“User research will inform stakeholders and the project team about how the services are likely to be received or is being used by users of the app,” the contract said. “This research may include: remote usability testing; lab-based usability testing; in-depth interviews; [and] ad hoc user research methods.”

The document added: “[Fluent] will provide advice and input to the team during team workshops, agile ceremonies, stakeholder communication sessions. [It] will support the project by working within the ways of working as agreed by the project team.”

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At the same time as this research is taking place, Open Inclusion will deliver user testing and provide design guidance focused on the inclusivity of the contact-tracing software.

Test processes will aim to include a diverse range of participants, whose feedback will be used by Open Inclusion to help provide UKHSA with a “categorised, prioritised summary of areas of difficulty or delight”. Difficulties identified by users will then be “prioritised… for remediation with the product and design teams”.

The supplier will also be tasked with providing support for potential tweaks of the app, including “advice and inclusive perspectives for new design directions; proposed modifications or improvements; engagement in design meetings and review sessions; engagement in copy review sessions; [and] engagement in accessibility prioritisation and review sessions”.

Since being launched in September 2020, the NHS Covid-19 app has been downloaded nearly 31 million times. The technology has been used by citizens to check into venues – such as pubs and restaurants – more than 250 million times in total; at the peak of its usage in early summer 2021, the app was supporting in excess of 10 million check-ins per week.

Alerts notifying users that they may have been exposed to Covid-19 have reached as high as 700,000 a week. In the weeks immediately preceding the end of the government’s provision of free testing on 1 April, notifications were still topping 500,000 each week. 

But this figure has since dropped dramatically; the most recent data, for the week ending 25 May, reveals that fewer than 50,000 contact alerts were issued. 

Contracts are in place to support delivery of the app until the end of 2022, although it is not clear what the plans for the technology are beyond that, or whether it will remain in use.


About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology. He can be reached on sam.trendall@dodsgroup.com.

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