1007 — The VHA Data Portal: Understanding User Needs in a Diverse Learning Organization
Souden ML, VA Information Resource Center (VIReC); Stelmack JE, VA Information Resource Center (VIReC); Wamsley C, National Data Systems; Trautman TN, VA Informatics and Computing Infrastructure (VINCI);
The VHA Data Portal is a collaboratively developed Intranet site launched in June 2013 to consolidate access to organizational resources that support the needs of VHA data users. The cross-organizational Portal workgroup managing the site faces a continued challenge in helping a diverse array of users to effectively navigate the site and make sense of its combined resources. In the spring of 2014, we partnered with OIA's Human Factors Engineering (HFE) group on a usability study of the Portal to examine user perceptions, uncover areas where it fails to meet expectations, and further understand user needs in preparation for the next phase of site enhancements.
A survey was fielded to 75 HSRData-L listserv subscribers who self-identified as current and potential Portal users. Twenty users were selected to participate in 1:1 usability testing sessions conducted via MS Lync by an HFE usability specialist. The study's findings are informed by analysis of the user survey and usability session themes.
Among the 49 survey respondents, 33% reported using VA data for research purposes only, 16% for operations and quality improvement projects only, and 51% for both types of projects. Respondents reported a range of expertise with VA data and 59% were regular or occasional Portal users while the other 41% had much less familiarity with the site. The Portal was mainly used by respondents for facilitating data access (51%) and to find data source and content information (46%). Generally, the Portal was well-received among the study participants, who appreciated the availability of a logically organized and comprehensive information resource. Task-based usability testing pointed to opportunities for design improvements, including: repurposing page real estate to provide quicker access to resources; improving consistency of terminology and labels; and increasing the utility of navigation menus. Participants had more difficulty with topically focused tasks and expressed a desire for functionality to support further exploration and evaluation of site content.
Key recommendations from the study are to restructure site navigation to provide a more intuitive entrée into site content; enhance functionality to incorporate role or goal-based navigation of resources; and develop more robust search and filter capabilities.
This study highlights challenges inherent in presenting information developed from the perspective of multiple offices to diverse audiences. The opportunity for VA as a learning organization is to use technology and design to scaffold the process through which data users make sense of valuable information resources.