Carolyn Dew Carolyn Dew

UX design and research in the civic space

Federal Front Door discovery research


The USAGov team within the General Services Administration is responsible for helping citizens and the general public better understand and interact with the federal government as a whole. They have been fulfilling this mission primarily by maintaining a website with information about the government (, operating call center, and by maintaining various social media accounts. USAGov’s strategy needs to adapt to changing internet behavior, and particularly the increasing expectation to be able to complete interactions online.

I worked on a team of five researchers as part of the Federal Front Door discovery research project in fall 2015 to learn more about how the general public interacts with the government, and what they think about those interactions. This set the stage for a series of experiments aimed at finding a new direction for USAGov.

Download the full research report (PDF)

A page from our report describing barriers digital government services
A page from our report describing barriers digital government services
See larger page (PDF)
design studio brainstorming workshop session
Workshop sessions

What I did

  • As part of a team of seven researchers, conducted 45 user interviews in five representative cities across the U.S. to understand the public’s experience interacting with various government agencies.
  • Consulted secondary research sources to both inform our process and add context to our own findings.
  • Collaborated with one other teammate to conduct a diary study with community librarians to learn more about what kinds of questions they get about government services.
  • Helped develop a concrete research plan and conversation guides based on abstract framing questions (for example, “What touch points do people think they have with the federal government?”).
  • Collaboratively synthesized a large amount of data from raw interview notes and recordings using a grounded theory methodology.
  • Identified design opportunities for USAGov to explore through experimentation.
  • Created a print-friendly summary handout of our findings that can be delivered to senior bureaucrats, who are less likely to read a long report or follow a link to an online version.
  • Led and coordinated the collaborative writing effort of the entire team to create a cohesive research report that explores our findings in detail.
  • Onboarded twelve employees to the project after volunteering to lead the project during the shift from discovery phase to experimentation.

Key Techniques and deliverables

  • research participant recruitment
  • user research
  • user interviews
  • recruitment screeners
  • intercept interviews
  • diary study
  • writing
  • affinity mapping
  • grounded theory


Our research findings helped inform the direction of multiple high-profile projects, including the U.S. Web Design Standards,, experiments in cross agency information exchange, and the Contact Center Center of Excellence in the U.S. General Services Administration (a White House priority). In addition, the team was invited to present our findings to the Executive Office of the President (December 2015), and have responded to inquiries from a variety of foreign, state, and local governments.