UCX: Enhancing digital welfare public services with independent website augmentation
UCX is a web browser extension developed to respond to the difficulties and barriers Universal Credit (UC) claimants articulated accessing the online public service, contributing to a wider exploration of harms realised though choices made during the implementation of online digital welfare systems.
Scenario-supported interviews and surveys to inform prototype intervention co-design and evaluation activities with UC claimants and advisors.
Digital implementation choices can introduce or reinforce imbalances in power and agency, and adversely affect citizen’s utility to leverage help from their own wider socio-technical ecosystems.
Claimants of the UK social protection payment called Universal Credit (UC) identified the many ways in which digitisation itself can add to barriers and harms which affect them accessing UC Online. The use of speculative scenarios to support the interviews and surveys helped surface and articulate citizen-centric harm characteristics within wider ecosystems of ongoing changes. The findings led to the creation of design recommendations for systems being developed for this population, and a taxonomy of harms for use by HCI practitioners concerned with responsible innovation in digitised welfare contexts.
These initial project outputs were used in subsequent co-design with UC claimants of a prototype citizen-centric digital intervention to mitigate some of the problems they identified. Given the closed and impermeable nature of UC Online, this was built has a fully-working web browser extension, named the Universal Credit eXtension (UCX).
The prototype UCX was developed to be compatible with Google and Firefox web browsers, and is compatible with the most-restrictive current standards. UCX has been installed on a range of mobile phone, tablet, laptop and desktop devices and tested and demonstrated using a static mock-up of the UC Online website mirroring the gov.uk design standards with example content developed in conjunction with research participants. UCX operates with this demonstration website, or potentially with the live UC Online. The features are all optional to use, augmenting UC Online by embedding the following capabilities within a claimant’s web browser session:
- Contextual annotations sourced from advice/community organisations, providing guidance, explanations of jargon, tips, implications, warnings, links to third-party content, and translations
- Contacts for further independent help, advice and support
- Online chat with independent advice provider(s)
- Saving/printing content, page by page, with local saved file listing
- Sharing content, page by page, by email and post, with associated address book
- Applying selected visual accessibility modification across UC Online and UCX itself
- Saving personal notes and providing feedback.