Annual Summit

2023 Government UX Summit

Driving innovation through inclusion

Wednesday, June 14, 2023 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM ET

Hosted by and the User Experience Community of Practice

On June 14, 2023, will bring together user experience (UX) practitioners to share case studies and best practices from across the federal government with the theme of driving innovation through inclusion. Hear from our speakers about their experiences and lessons learned as they apply UX principles and methodologies in line with the President’s Management Agenda (PMA) to deliver results for all Americans.

At this year’s summit, you will hear from speakers at eight U.S. federal agencies:

  • Department of Defense (DOD)
  • Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
  • Department of the Interior (DOI)
  • Department of Labor (DOL)
  • Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
  • General Services Administration (GSA)
  • Office of Personnel Management (OPM)

The summit is virtual. There will be a short break after each session, and for an hour at noon, Eastern. Reserve your virtual seat today!

The event agenda below includes the speakers, agencies, and descriptions for all sessions.


10:00 am - 10:05 am, ET


Session 1, 10:05 am - 10:45 am, ET

Inclusive civic design: Engaging diverse communities to improve the early career experience

View the slides (PowerPoint presentation, 1.0 MB, 25 pages)
U.S. Office of Personnel Management seal.

Design research with the public can be difficult. It is a balancing act between Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) requirements, time and funding constraints, and the desire to reach a wide, diverse pool of users. OPM’s USAJOBS Program Office is exploring these challenges to build inclusive design research practices.

We’ll share the case study of the Early Career Marketplace, a research collaboration between USAJOBS’ Team Discovery and The Lab at OPM. With only 6% of the federal workforce being under the age of 30, USAJOBS is central to achieving PMA Goal 1.2 to “build equitable pathways into the Federal Government for early career positions, particularly from underrepresented and underserved communities.”

The USA Jobs logo in bold red text.

We knew the Early Career Marketplace needed to work for underserved communities, and our research participants needed to reflect that. To do so, we pivoted mid-project to reach beyond testing with friends and family. By getting approval to compensate research participants and exploring new outreach channels, we built a recruiting strategy around inclusion.

The logo for The Lab at OPM has the word Lab in orange and OPM in teal. In between is a small orange circle.

In this presentation, we will share actionable tips about managing project logistics and recruiting underrepresented and underserved communities. This is by no means an expert level class, but instead a case study in how to begin building more diverse recruiting strategies in a budding research practice.


  • Kelly Wisneski—Design Researcher, USAJOBS, OPM
  • McKenna Cole—Design Researcher, The Lab at OPM
  • Patricia Morris—Design Strategist, The Lab at OPM
  • Simone Saldanha—Design Researcher, The Lab at OPM


  • UX Community co-lead, Natalie Buda Smith—Director of Digital Strategy, Library of Congress

Session 2, 11:00 am - 11:45 am, ET

Lessons from the NIH All of Us Research Program: Making DNA information more accessible

View the slides (PowerPoint presentation, 6.3 MB, 36 pages)
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services seal.

The NIH All of Us Research Program is poised to make DNA information more accessible by returning free, personalized results about hereditary disease risk and pharmacogenetics to thousands of All of Us research participants who want them.

Returning DNA results is a complex user experience initiative that includes genetic health education, participant consent, report generation, and genetic counseling. The complexity is magnified by the diversity of our participant audience: 80% come from communities that have been historically left out of health research, including racial and ethnic minority populations, people living in rural communities, sexual and gender minorities, and older adults.

NIH logo

Presenters will share a stakeholder feedback model that user experience professionals can learn from, apply, and adapt to their own organization, projects, and customers to ensure delivery of an inclusive and accessible user experience to a diverse audience. Attendees will learn about the methods the NIH All of Us Research Program used to gather, categorize, and prioritize stakeholder feedback about the user experience. Presenters also will show examples of how the NIH implemented the feedback to ensure an inclusive, participant-first user experience that prioritizes trust, choice, privacy and security, plain language, inclusivity, accessibility, and usability and will discuss how the NIH is measuring the impact of the feedback and applying lessons learned to future initiatives.

Key takeaways from this session will include:

  • Methods for engaging with stakeholders and gathering feedback to produce more inclusive and accessible user experiences.
  • A model for gathering, categorizing, prioritizing, implementing, and measuring stakeholder feedback in user experience design and methods to apply in your own work.


  • Jennifer Shelley—Health Communications Strategist, Division of Communications, NIH
  • Leslie Westendorf—Contractor, UX Strategy, NIH


  • Laura Lourenco—Business Informatics Specialist, U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA)

Break, 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm, ET

Session 3, 1:00 pm - 1:45 pm, ET

1. Accessibility research in action: VA’s Health and Benefits mobile app

View the slides (PowerPoint presentation, 3.2 MB, 13 pages)
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs seal.

The accessibility community talks a lot about the “shift-left” methodology when it comes to thinking about accessibility — embedding accessibility early in a project to prevent problems instead of fixing them after they have happened. This session will provide actionable ways for you to build accessibility research into your practice, or to deepen it if you’ve already started. We hope to inspire UX designers across the government to continue raising the bar on accessibility.

In 2022, the VA launched the Health and Benefits flagship mobile app. Since then, the team has deepened its accessibility-first approach in designing new features. This session will serve as a case study and explore the ways the team partnered with blind and low vision veterans to gain a deeper understanding of their experience using the app. Our techniques can be used to design websites, web apps, mobile apps, and other projects.

In this session, we will share:

  • How we set up the research
  • How we conducted accessibility-first synthesis sessions within the team
  • How research findings led to improvements in the app


  • Martha Wilkes—Accessibility Strategist, VA Office of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO)
  • Elizabeth Straghalis—Contractor, Staff Researcher, VA


  • David Tucker—Experience Strategist, U.S. Department of State

2. Operation Rising Tide: Cognitive disability accommodations for the workforce

View the slides (PowerPoint presentation, 4.4 MB, 14 pages)
U.S. Department of Defense seal.

Government agencies use a range of internal systems to perform their duties, many of which are purpose-built by any number of diverse teams. The design and architecture of these systems is typically focused on fulfilling specific requirements without regard to usability. Currently, there is no established approach to assess or ensure usability of internal government systems regularly used by an agency’s workforce. This results in application-specific design and function that is often unintuitive, brittle, and places undue burden on the user. Likewise, users are required to learn application-specific operations which do not generalize to other systems.

The white Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) logo on a dark blue background.

Issues related to usability and user experience affect all users, especially the 5% of the workforce with cognitive and learning disabilities. People with cognitive and learning disabilities have greater difficulty navigating complicated workflows than those without such disabilities. Because everyone has cognitive limits that can vary due to stress, fatigue, and distraction, all users benefit when processes are easily navigated by individuals with cognitive and learning disabilities. Existing policies for disability accommodations under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 can be applied to improve government systems and increase productivity and morale for everyone.

The presenters will brief Operation Rising Tide, which is an initiative intended to improve usability of internal government systems by accommodating individuals with cognitive and learning disabilities as required under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.


  • Gordon Banks—General Engineer, Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA)
  • MAJ Kirk Shoemaker—Nuclear and Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Officer, U.S. Army, DTRA


  • David Tucker—Experience Strategist, U.S. Department of State

Session 4, 2:00 pm - 2:45 pm, ET

1. Designing metaphors, designing collaboration

View the slides (PowerPoint presentation, 8.4 MB, 46 pages)
The GSA logo in white, at the bottom of a blue square.

Metaphors are one of our most powerful methods of communication, but they’re often overlooked as worthy of design. Research shows that our metaphors don’t only reflect our way with words — they reflect the way we think. They are plain language tools to help us grasp complicated situations, and share our mental models with our collaborators.

Alex (an engineer) and Laura (a designer) love that the right phrase can translate concepts from one brain to another. Metaphors structure the actions we take and influence our reasoning. And when we consider multiple metaphors, we can help our teams reframe situations, check cognitive biases, and consider alternative approaches.

In this session we will:

  • Discuss the value and importance of understanding, interrogating, and improving our metaphors.
  • Help you listen for and track the existing metaphors invisibly shaping your workplace.
  • Help you reflect on their strengths, weaknesses, and impacts.
  • Offer methods to quickly generate new metaphors and refresh those that have grown stale.


  • Alex Bielen—Engineering Supervisor at 18F, GSA
  • Laura Nash—Design Supervisor at 18F, GSA


  • Jonella Culmer—User Experience Designer, Federal Election Commission (FEC)

2. Simplifying user experiences for complex content at USAGov

View the slides (PowerPoint presentation, 9.2 MB, 21 pages)
The GSA logo in white, at the bottom of a blue square.

At USAGov, one of our top questions is, “How do I report a scam?” The answer is that it depends. What kind of scam is it? Identity theft? Housing? Banking? There are a number of details to sort out before you know where to report the scam. It sounds like a simple question, but it’s a complex journey to figure out the answer.

If you call or chat with our contact center, one of our friendly agents will ask some questions to help figure out the correct place to report your scam, but what about visitors to our website? On the website, people had to do a lot of reading to find the answer. Plain language and content formatting weren’t doing enough to simplify the information.

When we were rethinking our content design for, we imagined ways to simplify it for our visitors by building tools that ask a few simple, anonymous questions to deliver a simple answer.

We’ll explain the process of how our Scams Wizard came to be and how we are making small, iterative improvements. We’ll begin with our content design process, how we built a minimum viable product (MVP), added more topics, did usability testing, and our process and plans to make it interact with voice assistants in the future.

Key takeaways from this session include:

  • An example of simplifying complex content for people in an emotional state.
  • Our process, which involved content design, prototyping, and comparative usability testing with underserved communities.
  • How we put together a mini product team.
  • Launching imperfect tools and making iterative improvements based on data.


  • Joanne McGovern—UX Researcher, USAGov, GSA
  • Mercedita Andrew—Contractor, UX Researcher, GSA


  • Jonella Culmer—User Experience Designer, Federal Election Commission (FEC)

Session 5, 3:00 pm - 3:45 pm, ET

View the slides (PowerPoint presentation, 2.3 MB, 23 pages)
U.S. Department of Homeland Security seal

The concept of requiring a signed consent form in user experience (UX) or customer experience (CX) research is a holdover from the institutional review board (IRB) process in academic research. Yet even in higher education, UX and CX research is often deemed exempt from IRB and does not actually require a signed form. It’s time we question why the signed consent form process is the standard in civic UX and CX research. Do we really need a signed form to gather consent, or are we just carrying over practices because the signed consent form is what we’ve always done?

The logo for the Department of the Interior's Office of Natural Resources Revenue is in shades of blues, greens, and white.

This panel includes user and customer experience specialists from three very different agencies. They will share their thoughts on the need for consent forms in civic user and customer research, how their new consent process is driven by inclusion and equity goals, what it took to change the consent form procedure at their agency, and their revised consent procedures that are in place or forthcoming.

In this session we will address:

U.S. Department of Labor seal.
  • Is the signed form a requirement that builds or reduces inclusion?
  • What other options do we have?
  • What power dynamics do we have with our participants when providing government services? And how do consent forms play into those power dynamics?


  • Dana Chisnell—Acting Director for Customer Experience, DHS
  • Erin Elzi—Digital Services Specialist, Office of Natural Resources Revenue, DOI
  • Shannon McHarg—User Experience Designer, Office of the Chief Information Officer (CIO), DOL


  • UX Community co-lead, Jaime Kern—Strategic Communications Lead, Office of Enterprise Strategy Management, GSA


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