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Learnings on Democratizing UX Research from the UXRConf 2023

Learnings on Democratizing UX Research from the UXRConf 2023

Author:
Theertha Raj
·
June 13, 2023

We were at the UXR Conference 2023 last week (virtually), watching some of the smartest people in user research talk about how they do it. From using AI and data-driven insights to everyone’s favourite research tools and methodologies, there were a lot of valuable learnings to be jotted down and shared. Democratizing research was one of the hot topics debated about, with insight-filled sessions led by Lauren Ruben, Staff Researcher at Slack on it. 

In case you missed it, worry not! Here are the notes on what went down, prepped with a little help from Looppanel’s savvy AI notes feature (sign up to check it out!).

To democratize or not to democratize research

The discussion on research democratization invariably came to what it means for researchers. 

Is it about teaching others to do your job better? As Lauren noted, not really. Democratizing research is about teaching people to do what they might already be doing better. We all have natural skills of empathy, making conversation and learning from it. Everyone’s already doing research in some way or another, but without the tools, resources and learning that the professionals benefit from. 

This also means that any organization is mature enough for democratizing research, as long as they’re ready to be closer to the users they serve.

Democratizing is also not a one-size-fits-all problem, and might take multiple tries to figure out a functioning model that works for your organization. So the earlier the process begins, the better. 

The fail-proof route to democratizing research

According to Lauren Ruben, Staff Researcher at Slack, democratizing research in your organization comes down to 3 tried-and-tested core principles: 

  1. Start small
  2. Contextualize the learnings
  3. Investing in documentation/processes

Start Small

It’s important in the beginning to have clarity on the goal, and design for actionability. Instead of dumping a pile of research choices on your teams, focus only on what they need.

Let’s say that you’re helping the design team to employ research methods better. Firstly, what are the methodologies that work best for the desired goal here? Start small by narrowing it down to the methods that fit best. Set definitions for who can participate in the programme, instead of leaving it open. There is such a thing as too many choices. Qualitative and quantitative data might be like peanut butter and jelly for your research team, but do the others really need the entire shebang to achieve outcomes? Instead of setting your team free to ponder upon the various research pathways at hand, putting guardrails in place can save time and energy. 

Contextualize the learnings

To emphasize actionability, it’s also important to contextualize learnings based on the target audience. A full-day session could instead be just two hours, by precisely focusing on what the team needs to learn. You already know the outcome you’re working towards, so tailor what you teach in service of those goals. At Slack, for instance, the designers in question didn’t really need the entire abstract, holistic curriculum on research. They needed learnings that were grounded in their everyday work, which were actionable and contextual—for example, how to set up and run an unmoderated test. Tailoring the education to the participants' point of view made all the difference by removing ambiguity, and ultimately empowering them to self-serve.

Investing in documentation/processes

Thirdly, it’s critical to invest in the documentation and set up processes. Visualize the end-to-end journey for your participants, from designing and facilitating to sharing the research. Provide detailed templates and guideline documents for every stage, as it helps in maintaining consistency as well as keeping people aligned with the process. It’s not the most exciting task, but creating templates for discussion guides,, research summaries, and sharing research internally can make or break your program. 

Create a centralized, digital homepage

That being said, what about the murky waters outside of templatized, replicable research pathways? For broader, complex research projects, establish a centralized, digital homepage on a platform like Slack for people who do research to communicate, problem-solve and call for external support. Teams can share the insights they’ve gained with their colleagues, and learn from each other in real time. 

As the team at Slack learned, you also need to make it easy for people to ask for help. Instead of having a single touchpoint approach to research, get your product researchers involved with running training sessions, or contributing to a tight-knit, ongoing support system.\

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