Reimagining iTax - key findings and outcomes of the design sprint

By Kennedy Kirui
iHub
  Published 27 Apr 2018
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TL;DR

  • iHub recently ran a 5-day workshop exploring how iTax, KRA's online tax platform, would work if it was designed with the user in mind
  • This project is part of iHub Research's governance and technology program aimed at understanding the successes and challenges governments face using together to improve service delivery
  • The workshop was held at iHub and involved participants from KRA, the Kenya Society for the Blind, a localization expert, a tax expert, a couple of frustrated iTax users, designers, and developers
  • At the end of the workshop, a prototype was tested with users. You can check out the prototype by going tohttp://easytax.ihub.co.ke/

Have you ever filed your taxes on iTax? If so, did you do it yourself or did you get someone to do it for you? It will be tax season pretty soon in Kenya and everyone will be rushing to a friend or a tax expert to help them avoid the KES 20,000 penalty imposed by the Kenya Revenue Authority when you don't file your taxes on time.

Governments, across the world, have been trying to leverage ICT to improve service delivery. For some time now, the team at iHub Research has been running a research program looking at government responsiveness on the ICTs launched, which surfaced several shortcomings on some of the systems launched. The research took a deep dive into 5 ICT tools deployed by the national government and 3 county ICT platforms (read more,here,hereandhere).

One of the key challenges the Research team identified was that many of these platforms had immense usability challenges. In the spirit of moving beyond just providing critique, they partnered with the iHub Software Consulting team to run a 5-day design sprint to rethink iTax using a user-centered design approach. In this post, I will talk more about what the sprint participants achieved over the five days and also cover how we intend to build upon this.

Important note: The design sprint and the research study was not in any way funded by the Kenya Revenue Authority. It is an exploratory study seeking to understand how governments can leverage technology to improve service delivery. The sprint involved participants from KRA so that we could get the perspective of the tax agency.

The Approach

The workshop used the 5-day design sprint approach advocated byThe Sprint Book by Jake Knapp with John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz. We have written before about how we used the same approach to think through the development of a new digital information service targeting small and medium-sized NGOs. You can read the post here.

As a quick recap, you need three key things in place to ensure you have a great sprint. First, you have to identify a good challenge. Our challenge was to redesign iTax with the user at the center to improve its adoption among taxpayers.

Second, you need the right team in place. For our sprint, we had:

  1. KRA team with members from the innovation and iTax departments, to aid in demystifying iTax and the tax laws.
  2. iHub Researchers, to give background to the problem at hand and insights on the users, in our case citizens.
  3. An accounting expert, someone with a deep understanding of the process of tax returns in Kenya.
  4. Localisation expert, someone with experience adapting and translating a digital product to a specific country or region.
  5. A representative of persons with disabilities.
  6. The iHub Software Consulting Team to facilitate the sprint, design and develop the tax returns site.
  7. Testers, these are actual iTax users who will test the prototype and give feedback.

The last thing you need to get right is identifying a good location and creating an uninterrupted block of time to carry out the sprint. Our sprint was held at iHub between the 16th and 20th of April.

Monday 16th - Understanding and mapping the problem

Going into the sprint, we knew that iTax provided significant usability issues. We spent the first day trying to understand the reasons for the same. This was done through an open discussion among the participants allowing the team to view the problem from different perspectives. At the end of the exercise, the participants had identified several challenges with iTax:

  1. It lacks an assistant for situations where someone is stuck/support. As a user, you have to get this support offline
  2. Tax laws can be hard to interpret
  3. Lack of clarity on the categorization of users on iTax and their tax obligations
  4. Usability of iTax
  5. Downtime during peak hours
  6. Digital literacy is a problem among many of its users
  7. Training material lacking
  8. Excel is generally hard to use yet iTax relies heavily on it
  9. It is only accessible on computers
  10. Transparency and communication not adequate when using iTax. There is a lot of jargon used on the platform
  11. iTax assumes high computer literacy
  12. iTax isn't accessible to people with disabilities

Perhaps one of the highlights of the first day was the realization that even though we talk a lot about inclusive design we always omit persons with disabilities when designing solutions. iTax doesn't have the ability to allow blind and deaf people to use the website. This is the case across almost all government websites even though the law requires this to be factored in.

By the end of the day, we had grouped the challenges into four broad groups which were our opportunities for intervention.

  1. How might we develop a communication and messaging strategy that demystifies tax and taxation?
  2. How might we rework the onboarding process to improve people's understanding of their tax obligations?
  3. How might we tackle usability issues on iTax to increase the number of taxpayers who file taxes by themselves?
  4. How might we redesign iTax to make it accessible on different devices, languages, and include people with disabilities?
Before we narrowed to four key challenges we did a silent brainstorm to generate as many ideas and then classified them based on recurring themes Before we narrowed to four key challenges we did a silent brainstorm to generate as many ideas and then classified them based on recurring themes

With that done, we called it a day.

Tuesday 17th - Generating solutions

We kicked off the second day of the sprint by reviewing the activities from the previous day. From this, we quickly realized we couldn't solve the four problems we had identified during the sprint. The first exercise was to decide on the challenge to focus on for the remainder of the sprint. Using the voting dots, each participant selected a challenge they felt if solved would have the most impact. With just one voting round, we identified iTax's usability as an issue that would be tackled during the sprint.

The next exercise was what is referred to as "remix and improve". Participants were tasked with identifying similar solutions or solutions playing in the governance space that they liked and pinpoint ideas we could borrow from such solutions. This allowed us to leverage on existing efforts that have shown to work well.

Seeing that our focus was going to be on iTax's usability, one of the KRA team members took us through the tax filing process.

A walk through the tax filing process on iTax A walk through the tax filing process on iTax

As the walkthrough was being done, one of the participants mapped the steps taken to file income tax. The rest of the participants were armed with a pen and stickies noting any kinks or confusing elements of the journey. At the end of the walkthrough, we quickly reviewed our findings.

Armed with this information, the participants were now ready to start sketching possible solutions. To ease ourselves into the exercise, we first started by highlighting the proposed workflow in writing. This was done individually and all ideas were pinned on the board and reviewed. Next, the participants generated different ideas on how a taxpayer would navigate iTax. This included what they would see when they first landed on the site, what they saw on login, and the filing process.

At the end of the day, we had a stack of different ideas. We then broke for the day.

Wednesday 18th - Storyboarding

Wednesday morning kicked off with a quick review of the sketches from the previous day. The exercise was aimed at identifying the most interesting approaches the participants identified. We quickly realized we couldn't rework the entire website and as a result, we had to converge again. At the end of the exercise, we had selected reworking the landing page, the dashboard the user sees on login, and the income tax filing process. Income tax is what taxpayers who are employed file.

For the rest of the day, the team split into three separate groups. For the first half of the day, the groups worked on different solutions for the same screens. At intervals of 20 minutes, they shared what they had allowing for cross-pollination of ideas.

The sprint participants working in separate groups  The sprint participants working in separate groups

Early in the afternoon, for about 15 minutes, we switched gears and worked on a marketing message for the prototype we were going to test at the end of the week. This exercise helped us think even more about what would catch the taxpayers' eye. It would also act as a guide for the team on what was expected at the end of the sprint. After reviewing the ideas on the board, a couple quite cheesy, we unanimously chose "File your taxes in three easy steps" as our slogan. The implication was that we had to ensure a taxpayer could file their income taxes in only three screens and still provide all the required information.

After several iterations, we finally had the storyboards we needed.

The new iTax home page would look something like this The new iTax homepage would look something like this
The dashboard a logged in iTax user would see would look something like this The dashboard a logged in iTax user would see would look something like this

Once a user selected to file income tax, the process looked as follows:

The first step involved confirming your personal details The first step involved confirming your personal details
The second step allowed the user to confirm their tax obligations and make any necessary amendments The second step allowed the user to confirm their tax obligations and make any necessary amendments
The last page was a simple confirmation page showing whether you owed KRA or KRA owed you money The last page was a simple confirmation page showing whether you owed KRA or KRA owed you money

Thursday 19th - Prototyping

The fourth day of the sprint is when we finally get to build something. For the designers and the developers in the team, this is usually the most challenging day. Compared with the other days, it feels like a silent day. However, that is never the case. Building a prototype in a single day is no mean fit. Luckily, the iHub Software Consulting team were up to the task and managed to build the prototype just in a single day. At the end of the day we had:

  • A redesigned home page
  • A new dashboard for logged in users
  • A process for filing income tax
The landing page we envisioned. The name Easy Tax was used so as not to confuse people filing their taxes on iTax The landing page we envisioned. The name Easy Tax was used so as not to confuse people filing their taxes on iTax
The Easy Tax dashboard on login The Easy Tax dashboard on login

Friday 20th - User testing

On Friday, we finally got the chance to put what we had worked on all week in front of users and get feedback. The test sought to understand the following:

  1. Understand the challenges our testers face using iTax
  2. Get reactions to the new visual design
  3. Get reactions to the new dashboard for logged in users
  4. Test the three-step filing process
  5. Get feedback on areas for improvement
An Easy Tax test participant goes through the prototype An Easy Tax test participant goes through the prototype

We tested the prototype with six different participants. You can check what we tested by going tohttps://easytax.ihub.co.ke/. Please note that it is rough around the edges

From the test, participants identified the following as things they liked:

  1. The video tutorial on the landing page provided guidance on taxes
  2. The interface was deemed clean and straight to the point
  3. The messaging was simpler and easier to understand
  4. Multi-lingual support
  5. Straightforward navigation
  6. The use of icons helped communicate well
  7. The 3-step filing process
  8. The breakdown of tax obligations
  9. The tax calculator

The areas for improvement identified were as follows:

  1. How a taxpayer's PAYE was calculated could be improved. A couple of participants didn't understand how the math was done
  2. Tax balance was didn't communicate. A couple of users didn't understand if they owed KRA or KRA owed them
  3. The new flow didn't explain the impact having a mortgage or life insurance had on their tax obligations
  4. The messaging could be improved further
  5. No one thought there was a person behind the live chat feature :-(

What next?

The iHub Software Consulting team will spend the next two weeks refining the prototype based on the feedback received from the testers. We will then release a more complete version of how a tax filing platform would look like if it was designed with the user at the center.

The Easy Tax sprint participants recapping the 5-day experience The Easy Tax sprint participants recapping the 5-day experience

Interested in learning more about iHub Software Consulting's services and how you can leverage design sprints to solve some of your most pressing problems? Drop us a line at consulting[at]ihub.co.ke

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