How Team Heartwood puts people first with their research approach


Meet Team Heartwood, an Agile product team from the Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship (WLRS) working to create and improve digital services for the Ministry of Forests. As part of the Forest Service Applications Modernization Project, they build user-centric applications that prioritize quality, security and ease of use.

The team name “Heartwood” is inspired by the strength and resilience of a tree’s core. This reflects the team’s commitment to creating digital solutions that grow, adapt and stand the test of time.

Team Heartwood’s efforts embody the practice ‘Design with people and embed inclusion.‘ They’re devoted to understanding and meeting the varied needs of their program and business partners, and crafting solutions with the people that actually use their products. Here’s a closer look at their challenges, process and impact.

The challenges

Many companies, agencies and government departments rely on critical forestry applications to access information, perform research and conduct their businesses. But they struggle with the outmoded database and architecture that underpins the whole system. This monolithic database is made of over 40 legacy applications that are near or at the end of their lifecycle. This means they are difficult to update and respond to changing legislation and user needs. The Forestry Digital Services program is transforming these applications, and sustainable, multidisciplinary digital teams like Team Heartwood are the foundation of this transformation.

The process: Team Heartwood’s user research approach

To truly understand and meet the needs of their users, Team Heartwood employs a multi-faceted approach to user research.

Finding the right people

People are generally open and willing to give feedback, which isn’t too time-consuming for them but offers valuable insights for the team. The challenge lies in identifying the right individuals — those who are directly involved with and will use the application — as they offer the most relevant and practical input. Sometimes folks don’t think they have much to contribute to the design of the product as they don’t see themselves as leaders or decision makers in their organization. But they are the ones that have the most valuable information and expertise about what is needed from the product, as they are using it in their day-to-day.

Diverse research methods

Alongside quantitative methods like surveys, Team Heartwood values in-depth one-on-one interviews for unearthing hidden insights.

Engaging with users

Service designers and UX researchers conduct interviews to learn about user needs, pain points, and priorities.


Post-interview, the team synthesizes the information to create application prototypes using tools like Figma. These can be wireframe diagrams of the application’s interface, or more interactive prototypes that look very similar to a real application.

Feedback and testing

These prototypes are then tested with users to gather feedback and observe how they use them, leading to iterative refinements.

Learning from Team Heartwood: Steps you can take towards inclusive design

Team Heartwood’s work shows the importance of empathy and understanding in building digital solutions. Their approach is a reminder that putting users at the center of digital tool creation can genuinely improve their day-to-day lives.

For those eager to learn more about human-centred design, the Digital Code of Practice is a great resource to explore. For hands-on training to bring these concepts to life in your own work, check out Digital Academy offerings.

To learn more about the Forestry Suite of Applications Modernization Program, watch the introductory video on YouTube.

Our Digital Code of Practice blog series highlights ways the 10 practices can help modernize government operations and deliver improved services to citizens.

Check out the blog and learn how people across government are following each practice at work.

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