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https://digitalhealth.blog.gov.uk/2022/02/14/hra-integrated-research-application-system-iras-website-alpha-assessment/

HRA Integrated Research Application System (IRAS) website alpha assessment

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Alpha, Assurance, Service assessments

Text saying "Service Assessment" with DHSC approved brand colours

From: NHSX
Assessment date: 25 November 2021
Stage: Alpha
Result: Met
Service provider: HRA with Big Blue Door

Service description

The Health Research Authority (HRA) protects and promotes the interests of patients and the public in health and social care research by making sure that studies are legal, ethical and fair. 

Research teams use the Integrated Research Application System (IRAS) to apply for and amend their research approvals and report on research. IRAS is delivered by the HRA on behalf of the IRAS partners and is currently being redeveloped on a low code platform. The redevelopment of IRAS is part of a wider programme of work to ensure the UK remains a great place to carry out health and social care research.

The IRAS website will support the new functionality for IRAS and will be the front-door to a new world-class hub for health and social care research. It will support applicants in design, conduct and reporting of high quality health and social care research as well as the application they need to submit.

In the future (phase 2 of development), the IRAS website will also make it easy to find out about studies taking place and their results, in a way you can understand.

IRAS itself is being assessed separately.  

The existing online guidance has a number of pain points identified by research and user feedback, including:

  • users don’t understand the complex or length of the process
  • it’s hard for users to get all the right information they need in one place
  • the online guidance doesn’t meet accessibility standards
  • some guidance is out of date (due to legislative changes)

This results in failure demand such as avoidable contacts and failed or delayed applications.

The new website aims to address these pain points and:

  • reduce avoidable contacts from IRAS users
  • improve the perception of HRA, IRAS and the application proces
  • reduce application time
  • reduce the number of failed or delayed applications
  • improve usability
  • keep users informed of changes and updates to IRAS
  • help IRAS users find the information they need quickly and easily

Service users

This website is for IRAS service users, including: 

  • researchers 
  • organisations that deliver research and recruit and  follow up research participants 
  • organisations that provide or handle data and tissue  
  • sponsors of research (commercial and non-commercial) 
  • research funders 
  • patients and the public
  • IRAS partners  

Report contents

  1. Understand users and their needs
  2. Solve a whole problem for users
  3. Provide a joined-up experience across all channels
  4. Make the service simple to use
  5. Make sure everyone can use the service
  6. Have a multidisciplinary team
  7. Use agile ways of working
  8. Iterate and improve frequently
  9. Create a secure service which protects users’ privacy
  10. Define what success looks like and publish performance data
  11. Choose the right tools and technology
  12. Make new source code open
  13. Use and contribute to open standards, common components and patterns
  14. Operate a reliable service

1. Understand users and their needs

Decision

The service met point 1 of the Standard.

What the team has done well

The panel was impressed that:

  •   the user needs were well written and the presentation overall clear 

What the team needs to explore

Before their next assessment, the team needs to:

  • think about their sampling and increase the variety and number of primary users they engage with throughout testing
  • develop user typologies based on research, mainly for their primary user group (researchers). Based on the research, define more specific personas for new and experienced researchers looking for information before applying with a higher and lower complexity research project
  • test their riskiest hypothesis related to information architecture and user journeys with the relevant user categories and the appropriate methods. For example, the team should consider conducting more moderated sessions, with think-aloud, card sorting and highlight testing
  • test with users with access needs and lower digital confidence
  • test with new users who did not use the service before but might in the future

2. Solve a whole problem for users

Decision

The service met point 2 of the Standard.

What the team has done well

The panel was impressed that:

  • the team was able to explain how the website supports IRAS and has aligned its roadmap to the IRAS service development
  • the team showed a good understanding of the challenges IRAS users face and has thought about how to make the user journey consistent as people move from information (the website) to action (the IRAS application system)

What the team needs to explore

Before their next assessment, the team needs to:

  • ensure the website design is informed by research into the underlying problems identified by user feedback (for example, ‘new users don't understand process’, ‘existing users can't find guidance they know is there’) rather than just addressing the symptoms (for example, ‘we should create more ways to search for guidance’)
  • test and iterate website menus, navigation, search and guided answer functionality to ensure they work for users

3. Provide a joined-up experience across all channels

Decision

The service met point 3 of the Standard.

What the team has done well

The panel was impressed that:

  • the team has thought about how to keep language and terminology consistent between IRAS and the supporting website when things change
  • the team is aware of the complex regulatory environment and context (IRAS being a UK-wide service operating in a devolved health and care environment for the countries in the UK)    

What the team needs to explore

Before their next assessment, the team needs to:

  • research how people will find the service, via search and from NHS/GOV.UK websites, to ensure the website is findable - in particular that people don’t go straight into the application system without reading guidance       
  • do more research into device choice at the information stage (this could be done on mobiles) compared to applying on the IRAS system itself. They shouldn't assume that low mobile/tablet usage on the existing IRAS website is down to choice rather than necessity (as it performs so badly on small screens)
  • test how people in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland would find the new, unique IRAS service 
  • test whether people outside England seeking approval for healthcare research would trust the new IRAS branding more or less than an NHS service with combined branding

4. Make the service simple to use

Decision

The service met point 4 of the Standard.

What the team has done well

The panel was impressed that:

  • the team has designed the website to solve particular pain points identified through research and user feedback
  • the team tested the redesign with people who were familiar with the old system and people who were using it for the first time
  • the team changed the design according to user research, for example iterating the homepage to reduce cognitive load on users.

What the team needs to explore

Before their next assessment, the team needs to:

  • do more research into how people who regularly use the existing system will transition to using the new system, for example if there’s a need for guidance on migration (for example, video guidance was mentioned)
  • review and test the guidance provided across all service stages through contextual research (potentially unmoderated) to make sure users have the information they need before, during and after they apply for approval via IRAS

5. Make sure everyone can use the service

Decision

The service met point 5 of the Standard.

What the team has done well

The panel was impressed that:

  • the team is aware of the need to meet WCAG 2.1 AA standard    
  • the website will be built semantically to support screen readers and, potentially, voice and conversational interfaces
  • the team is exploring options to use the ‘project deputy’ role in the main IRAS system as a way for people to make or manage applications on behalf of others who face barriers to using a digital service

What the team needs to explore

Before their next assessment, the team needs to:

  • do more work to understand which support options would be best for users facing barriers (including nominating a project deputy) then design, test and iterate digital support provided by deputies and through the support helpline, including how people can access information over the phone
  • ensure design elements such as megamenus work on all devices and are fully accessible
  • commission an accessibility audit (for example, from Digital Accessibility Centre) to make sure the website is easy to use for people using assistive technology and/or with visual/motor impairments and meets WCAG 2.1 AA standard

6. Have a multidisciplinary team

Decision

The service met point 6 of the Standard.

What the team has done well

The panel was impressed that:

  • engagement and collaboration between different teams (internal, external and stakeholders) is good
  • there are good governance structures in place
  • if issues occur, a decision making structure is set up to deal with it
  • accessibility has been considered    

What the team needs to explore

Before their next assessment, the team needs to:

  • assign a dedicated professional to conduct user research and test the design ideas and decisions. This is to decrease the chances of confirmation bias happening for decisions and priorities because two different people are dedicated to generating and to testing them 
  • ensure that the Big Blue Door team adds the right development/testing/QA etc skills that are required.
  • be aware that beta is more in depth than alpha. The governance structure and communications need to be kept a close eye on given the number of different teams in different organisations working on it

7. Use agile ways of working

Decision

The service met point 7 of the Standard.

What the team has done well

The panel was impressed that:

  • the team is using agile methodologies 
  • scrum is in place and being flexed to suit the requirement, for instance one week sprints for design, 2 weeks for development 
  • there is an evidence based approach for conflict resolution   

What the team needs to explore

Before their next assessment, the team needs to:

  • consider using Scrum Of Scrums for the different teams to meet regularly to discuss and present progress
  • monitor progress of all deliverables closely, identify and flag risks early on

8. Iterate and improve frequently

Decision

The service met point 8 of the Standard.

What the team has done well

The panel was impressed that:

  • there is a clear focus on user centred design
  • communication is good
  • there was a good focus on a diverse range of users

What the team needs to explore

Before their next assessment, the team needs to:

  • ensure transparency throughout the next phase of work
  • continue with regular user research
  • gain clear targets of what the outcome of the project should look like

9. Create a secure service which protects users’ privacy

Decision

The service met point 9 of the Standard.

What the team has done well

The panel was impressed that:

  • although the project is still at wireframing stage, the team has put in a lot of effort into future thinking about security, including penetration testing and engaging with NCSC best practice
  • although in its first iteration the service will not include user data, the team has thought about the implications of database encryption

What the team needs to explore

Before their next assessment, the team needs to:

  • carry out an appropriate threat modelling for the service
  • work closely with the SRO and ensure continued support and budget for security assurance
  • make sure that the authentication system is aligned to corporate authentication

10. Define what success looks like and publish performance data

Decision

The service met point 10 of the Standard.

What the team has done well

The panel was impressed that:

  • users are being considered through a user satisfaction survey and website monitoring - a performance report goes up to the board flagging issues and detailing planned service improvements
  • Hotjar is being used to track user journeys    
  • the team has some thoughts about whether the service is doing what it is required to do (albeit these thoughts are in the early stages)      

What the team needs to explore

Before their next assessment, the team needs to:

  • clearly define (and get sign off from stakeholders on) what ‘good’ looks like
  • ensure a performance manager is engaged early on    
  • continue regular user research throughout the build
  • consider how it could measure the impact of ‘failure demand’ on external and internal users (for example avoidable contacts), meaning the team could benchmark failure demand from the existing IRAS website (operational metrics) and user pain points that went into the problem statement to measure how well the new website addresses these issue

11. Choose the right tools and technology

Decision

The service met point 11 of the Standard.

What the team has done well

The panel was impressed that:

  • the service team has chosen to explore well supported tools and technology, such as Terraform, CloudFormation, Ansible, and so on 
  • the platforms under exploration, Wagtail and Drupal, are in use at the HRA and well understood and supported
  • the backup for the service is meant to be on GCP while the server will likely run on AWS, thereby decreasing the chances of an irrecoverable situation    

What the team needs to explore

Before their next assessment, the team needs to:

  • take a firm decision on the stack to use and ensure that a support plan is in place

12. Make new source code open

Decision

The service met point 12 of the Standard. Note: the project is at wireframing stage so there is no code to be released yet.

What the team needs to explore

Before their next assessment, the team needs to:

  • fully consider and understand point 12 of the Service Standard
  • code in the open, release the open source code, or provide a valid reason why this should not be appropriate; in such case, consider whether components of the service should be released
  • when the code is released, it should be under an appropriate open licence

13. Use and contribute to open standards, common components and patterns

Decision

The service met point 13 of the Standard.

What the team has done well

The panel was impressed that:

  • the service team has been considering a fully component-driven system
  • the service team has considered possible integrations with other services through REST API

What the team needs to explore

Before their next assessment, the team needs to:

  • better explain their choice not to use the NHS Digital design system, if final

14. Operate a reliable service

Decision

The service met point 14 of the Standard

What the team has done well

The panel was impressed that:

  • the service is supported by a 24/7 365 support contract that will last at least for 12 months after reaching the launch of the live stage 
  • the support strategy is in line with other websites in the HRA
  • there is appropriate outage monitoring through effective monitoring tools

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