A note for readers – I refer to users here. Feel free to think of your members, donors, beneficiaries, stakeholders, and customers. I will also focus on external (not staff) users in this article. 


There is a real dilemma at the centre of this topic, common to all organisations planning change:  

How do we truly cater for the needs of our users without derailing our timeline for change, and disrupting what we must deliver for ourselves as an organisation?

Solving this dilemma requires a fine balance of many factors of availability.  

What do I mean by this? 

At the outset of a project, it is important to evaluate what budget, time, data, goodwill, and opportunity there is available to focus on users’ needs in a way that will be effective. 

Ignoring this focus is folly. Maintaining this focus will help you uphold your organisation’s mission statement. After all, you exist and are funded to support the needs of your users.  

That said, the dilemma is valid and needs careful handling. 

So how may organisations understand and develop services based on what users truly need?  

And how may organisations structure how user needs are captured for the greatest benefit? 


User analytics tools are becoming easier, cheaper, and more straight forward to interpret in the sector, be that recognised web analytics tools, online user feedback tools, or through the development of user pulse surveys. All approaches represent good ways to understand users’ needs based on what they say to you and in response to what they do with you every day. 

User personas are also very helpful – profiles of what your main user groups look and sound like. Simply personas offer projects humanity: visualising the needs of real people who use your services. 

Brainstorming on common needs is another option. By this I mean, using an internal workshop approach to identify upfront where the needs of users and of the organisation are in sync.  

Simple example: “our need for clean data is our users’ need for accurate communications.”  

Brainstorming like this underlines the principles of user experience without short-changing staff needs. This also helps where certain staff are stakeholders: recipients of your organisation’s services. 

Establishing a user forum is a constructive way to focus on external user requirements, identifying where the greatest needs exist: areas that would provide the highest satisfaction if delivered well. 

Believe it when you hear it: as long as user forums are structured and well-moderated, they will help you manage user expectations before and during major digital change. 

Planning demos, promotional videos and testing sessions for users – all becoming popular in projects now. Planning is the key here. As long as you plan in detail how you will share demos and receive responses on new software, you will get constructive feedback and not a mutiny. As long as you plan and control expectations about an external testing day, this will prove a useful exercise. 

Trusting and supporting your website and marketing teams is a must. These individuals are an organisation’s greatest allies and owners of user experience responsibilities. Many have trained in related theories and practices and are constantly looking at creative ways to understand user needs. 


In reality there are many ways to open the organisation outward to the true needs of users. Like many things, it is about being brave and responsible in the ongoing commitment to listen and hear what users need, against any basic risk this may open a project up to lots of additional activity.