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Behind-the-scenes of our democratized research culture at UI, with examples, outcomes, & self-reflection questions.
The reality soon set in that there was 1 of me and 101 of my new teammates. I needed to scale my knowledge and experience, fast!I
As Erika Hall explained in her book Just Enough Research, research is a tool that can be used to acquire knowledge. At the end of the day, what we learn through research can help inform decisions.
While that sounds wonderful in theory, the reality is that I, like many other researchers, are craftspeople. We’ve spent countless years honing our craft and the idea of opening up our work to others can be a really scary concept.
At the same time, as a designer-turned-PM-turned-User Researcher, I believe that there's much that researchers can gain by dipping their toes into the waters of democratization. There is power in seeing an engineer ask a customer a question, then immediately hop off the call to explore their answer in order to make a tangible improvement to the user experience.
I believe that it is part of our jobs, as Research Leaders, to explore and create systems, structures, and processes that empower not only ourselves but our teammates (full-time UXRs and others alike) to conduct research that will enable better decision-making for our companies and customers.
At the same time, I—like many researchers I’ve spoken to—have plenty of fears about what could happen if research goes wrong. What about quality? Rigor? Bias?
These feelings of excitement and fear can co-exist at the same time. And of course, there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to democratizing research if you choose to do so.
Here are a few self- reflection prompts that I used when onboarding onto the User Interviews team. These questions can help set you and your team up for success when determining whether it is right for you.
First, reflect on how you, personally, think about research and democratization:
Next, reflect on your how your organization views research and democratization:
The questions above should help you determine whether democratization is the right framework for you and your team. If it is , the next step is determining the level of tools, training, and education that your team will need to successfully democratize.
Consider the following:
Informed by the answers to those questions regarding myself and User Interviews, my team set up a working model around the type of work the User Research team would lead and the type of work we would enable others to drive.
The Research team at UI is responsible for driving company-wide strategic research. This includes work that focuses on foundational learning like mental model studies, competitive analysis, strategy and vision decisions.
Our research team is also responsible for enabling others to learn about UXR, and ensuring that they are focusing on the right things. To support this, I designed and implemented a research enablement program for our team at UI.
When teammates are learning about research for the first time, they can attend:
The goal of these 2 offerings is to help ground everyone's conceptual understanding around research. Once people are more familiar with UXR, they can expand their knowledge and begin applying what they've learned, by:
Finally, if anyone needs on-demand research support or guidance, we have:
Since implementing the model over 9 months ago, we’ve witnessed a few outcomes among the team at UI:
What does the future hold?
Our research enablement program is a work in progress. Over the next few months, I hope to focus on:
Our enablement programs are constantly changing, adapting, and shifting. We’ll be continuing to iterate and adjust our ways of working as the needs of our business and our teammates evolve. As always, it’s what you learn on the journey!
Psst—to hear more thoughts from UXR leaders like Roberta, check out the User Research Yearbook of 2022—a directory of thought leaders, change makers, and essential voices in user research and design.
VP, User Research
Roberta Dombrowski is a (former) VP, UXR at User Interviews. In her free time, Roberta is a Career Coach and Mindfulness teacher through Learn Mindfully.
Leadership & Strategy
September 28, 2023
We do our best work as researchers when we are open to learning from and collaborating with others. User Research Leader and Coach, Roberta Dombrowski shares tips for collaborating for research success.