Open Opportunities

From Taste-Testers to Explorers: Developing Personas for Open Opportunities

Dec 8, 2014

Being customer-focused means doing the gumshoe work of research and rounds of analysis to find gold by understanding user goals. For the task-based innovation network, Open Opportunities for DigitalGov, that meant developing personas in order to overcome our own biases and learn about the different motivations of our participants. In this article, we’ll talk about how we created our personas and how we plan to use them to meet both innovators’ and program needs.

Creating the personas

We began developing our Open Opportunities personas by carefully examining each of our users to gather data on their behaviors and attitudes. We then grouped them with others who had similar needs and characteristics, and from there we were able to get a picture of the people who use our program and why they participate.

Refining and iterating

The personas evolved as our viewpoint evolved: At first, we focused on why users are attracted to Open Opportunities. As we refined our personas, we pivoted, asking, “What is it about the people who are participating? What motivations do they have in common?” That change in focus opened the door to a more meaningful, engaging experience because we knew them better.

Early iterations of persona categories featured creative “food focused” metaphors including ‘Speed Eaters’—people who jumped in and immediately started doing tasks—and ‘Taste-Testers’—those who did only one task and had not signed up for additional projects.

As we honed in on the user experience of Open Opportunities participants, we were able to condense the 6 personas we started with into four key audience segments. These four groups don’t represent all our audience needs, but embody the needs of the most active user groups.


A smiling, mature businessman with laptop and coffee cup.
“This sounds interesting and I want to explore new things.” They have joined the network. Some may still be thinking about participating, some may have completed a task or two. Many explorers join in here, get their feet wet and never leave the group. They know about the program and may become evangelists. You will also find honey bees, careerists and activists in the explorer group waiting to be found.

A young woman uses a laptop computer.
“Whenever I have time, I like to work on something outside of my day-to-day job that can be completed quickly. It keeps me energized.” Honey bees buzz in and out. They may not have the time or interest to immerse themselves in something outside their regular job, or they may not have agency approval to work on long term tasks but they take an opportunity whenever they can.

A young man looks pleased using a laptop computer.
“I want to learn new skills, connect with others doing innovative things and build my resume.” They are looking for professional development opportunities and networking to advance or change the direction of their career.

A very happy woman using a laptop computer.
“I want to change the way government works.” They want to build a culture of collaboration, innovation and knowledge sharing. These feds are passionate about the work they are doing and believe they can make government better.

Although people primarily fit into one persona or another, there is some overlap. For example, some people start as Explorers or Honeybees, try a few tasks, and settle in as Careerists or Activists.

Next steps

We will use the personas to identify opportunities and align our strategy with customer expectations. Here are two examples of how we are currently helping users meet their professional development goals. Two Careerists expressed interest in building skills using GitHub and WordPress. We were able to help them meet those professional goals by matching them with these Open Opportunities:

In addition, we have several Activists who have done two or more six-month stints, working on projects they are passionate about.

As the program matures and new data becomes available, we will continue to improve the personas and encourage others within our organization to consider how they design their programs to meet users’ needs.