The Government Digital Service (GDS) is part of the Cabinet Office. Their key initiative is to help departments work together and to meet user needs, by supporting the ongoing transformation of government and improving the improving the use of data.
A big part of meeting user needs is to carry out research on those users - to ensure that a service is actually solving the problem it originally set out to, and is using language appropriate to that goal.
Finding research participants normally takes place using recruiters, but it isn’t possible to ask a recruiter to find 5 people that have engaged with a piece of content on the GOV.UK website. What GDS needed was a way to keep track of people who’ve used the GOV.UK website, and to invite them in for research - a “user research panel”.
Many user research teams have this same need, and have found that common solutions (using spreadsheets or commercial survey tools) are not compliant with the information security requirements of government, or the Data Protection Act.