From insights to actions. Or, what should we do with this research?

Action! almost…. (via Giphy)

So what should we do with this research?

This is a question that researchers often hear at the end of a research playback session. Especially one where we’re sharing findings or insights and not detailed recommendations of what to do next.

Most of the time there are two types of questions that teams should ask themselves:

  1. Which of these problems/opportunities do we care about now? If you were going to prioritise, which are the most pressing? Which might contribute most to the team meeting goals?
  2. What do we think we could do that might make things better for our users? What different things could we do that might address this opportunity?

A good researcher can help a team understand what opportunities are available to pursue. They will help you to see a problem in a different way — to frame the problem from the users point of view.

But you shouldn’t expect the researcher to come back and tell you what to do.

From insights to actions

Getting to actions from insights is a team sport that requires a range of inputs. The researcher’s role is to make the ‘user’ input as rich and insightful as possible. They should then work with the team to explore and evaluate the possibilities that emerge.

What makes an insight actionable?

To make a research insight actionable it must answer two key questions:

  • what is happening?
  • why is it happening?

Research that is not actionable answers only the first of these questions. If we don’t know why something is happening, we are not well placed to contemplate what action we should take.

The better the ‘why’ explanation, the better equipped a team will be to come up with clear and confident actions in response.

Research alone won’t tell you what to do

Sometimes when people say they want the research to be actionable, what they really mean is that they want the research to tell them what to do. They want research to answer a third question:

  • what should we do?

User research is just one of the pieces of information that product managers or designers need to decide what they should do.

Lenses for decision making

To make a good decision about what to do next, the team really needs to look through at least four lenses:

  • what is the user perspective?
  • how does this align to our product strategy?
  • what are the technical (feasibility) issues?
  • what are the financial/business implications? (cost / revenue)

Or, to use a more familiar framework, is the solution desirable, feasible and viable.

Image credit: Image: Niti Bhan

Most of the time, user researchers aren’t in possession of this full set of information. They will likely have strong and informed views. But don’t be disappointed if they can’t point you straight to the perfect solution.

Designers and product managers are usually much more expert in coming up with and evaluating solutions.

Designers are trained to take a problem and think about how you might be able to take many different approaches to solving it. Teams should use the designer to make sure they’re generating and evaluating lots of possible solutions.

Product Managers tend to be the experts in balancing all the different needs and helping the team to choose the best of the solutions on offer.

Researchers can help represent the end user perspective throughout this process. They can play a role in helping design a way of evaluating proposed solutions from the users point of view.

Other team members are also vital in this process.

Engineers and technical representatives giving the feasibility perspective (and quite often some pretty amazing possible solutions that the designers might have missed).

Analysts and data scientists provide different useful data sets to contribute to evaluating solutions. Sometimes a colleague from legal, or marketing, or other parts of the organisation can be very useful in this process too.

Getting from insights to actions is a team sport

It’s the responsibility of the researcher to make sure that the insights they bring to the team are useful. They need to explain the why and not just the what. But moving from insights to actions is a team sport and needs all the players to participate.

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