Personas and pathways – embedding the ‘user’ in delivery

[Originally published on Australian Government DesignGov under a Creative Commons 3.0 BY AU licence]

Problem statement

How do you design services, programs, practices and policies for large groups of people, most of whom you are unlikely to ever (or be able to) meet?

Status Quo

The traditional strategies are to conduct research about the population that you are designing for, to consult with representative groups and peak bodies, to invite comment or contributions from individuals, and to build on or work from something similar that may already be in place.

These and other methods can provide valuable intelligence about the group(s) that the service or policy is intended for.

However there are some major limitations to these methods:

  • The time of your stakeholders is valuable – how can you ensure that what you put forward for their comment reflects what they experience and will recognise?
  • How can you quickly check how users might respond to different possible situations to assist decision makers when they want to test different possibilities or consider different scenarios?
  • What do you do in a situation where you have been requested to develop a policy or service, but for various reasons, may not be able to consult or test with those who might be affected beforehand?
  • How can you be sure that you understand how your service/policy will intersect with all of the other matters of relevance that your potential stakeholder might have to deal with?
  • It is very tempting and very easy to assume that other people think the same way as you/your team/your agency – how can you make sure that you are not imposing one view when a very different view might apply in reality?

New Tools

One set of tools used successfully in many service sectors includes personas and user pathways or journeys. These approaches can give an understanding of the bigger picture of people’s lives rather than a one-dimensional representation based solely around how that person interacts with you or your service/policy.

Personas and pathways have also been used in parts of the public service to help create, test and deliver new services (for instance in the Australian Taxation Office or in the Department of Human Services).


As part of DesignGov’s project looking at how to improve interactions between business and government, we are investigating whether these methods might help improve agencies understanding of the impact of their programs and policies on individual businesses.

What, Who and When

We are holding two workshops (with the assistance of our colleagues at the Australian Taxation Office) in Innovation Month to test this idea. The first workshop will be held with public servants (from agencies supporting the project) who are unfamiliar with these approaches, to see whether they would help improve interactions with businesses.

The second workshop (on 22 May) will be with agencies and public servants who are familiar with these techniques. The workshop will attempt to piece together a common language/understanding of the techniques that could be used to help agencies collaborate when they are dealing with issues/users that touch multiple agencies.

While we have identified some agencies and public servants with experience in this area, we want to hear from others. If you are in the Australian Public Service, have experience with using these tools within your work, and would be able to attend the workshop in Canberra, we would love to hear from you.

We’ll provide an update on the findings of the workshops, but in the meanwhile, if you have any comments specific to whether personas and pathways might help improve interactions between businesses and government, please add them to our ideas platform.