User Research, third sector wisdom.

Laurence Piercy
Aug 19 · 2 min read

I’m nearing the end of a long piece of work. I’ve had my head in it day-to-day and now is the time to reflect on a few things that have become increasingly clear to me.

Small charities need UR to play a role as part of a product team, but research is also called upon all the time to answer big questions for the organisation, generate business and help senior staff to talk about why we do what we do.

The following points are about keeping your convictions.

Help other people understand what you do

User Research in charities often has to bow to situational pragmatism. I repeatedly work on projects with funders who want research to be agile, user focused and creative. But they also want to talk about impact, big samples and those percentages.

There isn’t always a way to square the circle, but it helps to be armed with the basics:

  1. Communicate what you need to say all the time in as many ways as necessary. When a researcher only needs to communicate within a high performing team, communication is easy. But findings need to land with other stakeholders and that can be a challenge. Use visuals, use their language, and keep finding examples or analogies that transport them.
  2. Keep your research tidy. Transcribe interviews so that you have direct, contextualised quotes to refer back to. Keep a library of findings. All of these tasks help you to get insights out of your own head, share research with other people and get the most out of your valuable data.
  3. Bring stakeholders along with your process. The more they see how your team work, the more they understand the process and invest in the outcome. If you can, open the findings up. Reading an interview transcript and participating in analysis can do more than anything else to help a stakeholder understand what the users are saying (and the actions the team has taken as a result).

New information is a chance to reflect on old information

By following point 2 above, there is always the opportunity to go back to old interviews. An insight may not be relevant first time round, but it could shape something six months later.

When this works, it also saves time (your time, users’ time, the team’s time).

Be alert to all the pieces of the puzzle

Communicating findings is often about advocating for users — which we all know is important. But remember that because researchers have the most interactions with users, they also have the most interactions with the people who are delivering services.

A good plan will focus what needs to be answered on a particular day or in a particular research phase. Stick to the plan, but also soak up the context at the same time. A resourceful researcher pieces together the connections, failings and opportunities along an end-to-end journey. This accumulated knowledge gives a head start on fresh challenges down the line, or allows you to surface what you know when the opportunity is there to influence areas of potential change.

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