Ontario Digital Service Lab opens shop in Communitech for user-based research

The provincial government is launching the new Ontario Digital Service Lab, a research lab that looks like your living room, dedicated to improving the government's digital services.

All-woman research team speaks seven languages between them

The lab leader Katherine Benjamin said the diversity of the team will help build better digital services for public users. (Courtesy of Katherine Benjamin)

The provincial government is launching its new Ontario Digital Service Lab today, a space dedicated to user experience design for the government's digital services, and it's run by eight women.

The lab will be located in Communitech's offices in downtown Kitchener. There are three full-time staff and the first cohort of co-op students happen to be all women.

"Overall we speak more than seven languages, we've lived in more than 10 countries," Katherine Benjamin, the lab leader at Communitech with the Ontario Digital Service Lab.

She said the diversity of the inaugural team is something special.

"In thinking about some of the ways you build really inclusive digital products, it's really important to have a diverse team that represents the diversity in the people that you're trying to serve," she said.

The Empathy Lounge where user-research happens is designed to be inviting like a home. (Xiaopu Fung/Ontario Digital Service Lab)

Building user-friendly products

The Ontario Digital Service Lab will focus on improving the government's digital offering, which includes changing the website so it's more user-friendly, and working with other ministries to make it more convenient for the public to interact with the government.

The launch event on Wednesday will feature a live demo a new OSAP calculator developed by lab for the launch using its user-research lab — the Empathy Lounge

Attendees can see how the team can use equipment like live video feed, live transcriptions and user-research software to improve products based on user feedback.

The team can observe what's happening in the Empathy Lounge through a direct video feed. (Xiaopu Fung/Ontario Digital Service Lab)

She said the work they do in the lab will help ensure the government products meet the needs of the end users.

"Everyday people can come into our lab, they can tell us a service they are using, and we will directly take the output of the content of that discussion and feed that into the next iteration of the product," Benjamin said.

She said globally there is a movement for digital transformation in the government in places like the United Kingdom and Australia.

"It is extremely rare to see something like this happening in government. You're much more likely to see it at Facebook, or Uber, or Spotify," Benjamin said.

"So bringing this into government in and of itself is really exciting."