The Innovation Lab - Working During the Pandemic: How we gathered the lived experience of Northern Ireland Civil Service Staff

Part of: The Innovation Lab, The Innovation Lab - Case studies, publications and external resources

The Innovation Lab research project on Working During the Pandemic: The lived experiences of Northern Ireland Civil Service staff.


The COVID-19 pandemic led to unprecedented personal and work-related challenges for both leaders and staff in the NICS. The Innovation Lab (the Lab) conducted research to explore, objectively, the lived experiences of NICS staff with the aim of gaining an understanding of the impact on them of working during the pandemic.


This research was conducted between late August and early October 2020. To obtain an in-depth understanding of user experience a qualitative survey was designed and issued to NICS staff, with a view to achieving responses from around 50 staff within each of the nine NICS Departments. In all, the views of 468 members of staff across all Departments were obtained, reflecting a range of grade, gender and working locations.

How we achieved this

To achieve our objective we undertook a number of steps including;

  • Planning, developing and issuing a survey;
  • Analysed the responses for each Department;
  • Affinity mapped the responses to help develop our thinking and create themes;
  • Once themed we looked for commonalities to derive insights and draw out “reasons and impacts;
  • Collating insights at the overall NICS level; and

We also collated data on advice staff had provided and their reflections shared via pictures;

You can read how we completed each step in more detail by accessing the following link;

What we delivered

We delivered a report which contained 7 areas of organisational learning across the NICS.

The information gathered from this research was used to inform the questions in the 2020 NICS People Survey and insights from both surveys helped NICS leaders better understand the current and future needs of the workforce. These insights have assisted in the design of NICS new ways of working and ensuring that the health and wellbeing of colleagues are at the forefront of these considerations.

The report also provides an evidence base, not just for the NICS, but for other public and private sector organisations considering their pathways out of the pandemic. It provides insights that can contribute to how NICS transforms the way we deliver services in the future.

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