Tools to run a UX Research synthesis workshop remotely
A step-by-step on how to create a knowledge base, set up a conference room and a board of activities for a remote workshop with your team
So you’ve done your research and you want to share it with the team in a way they will feel responsible and engaged with the results. Today I’ll be walking you through how we make a collaborative synthesis workshop happen here at Nubank. The goal is to turn raw observation data into insights with a big team while working from home but running as smoothly as in person.
This is not an article with our take on why these workshops are important, but a description of a setup that will work if you decide to do so. And for that, we'll be covering three key tools you'll need to have in hand:
- Knowledge base: to consult research findings;
- Virtual board: to collaborate visually on workshop activities;
- Conference room: to instruct and discuss as groups as well as a team;
1. How to set up your project knowledge base on Notion with the data from your research
The project knowledge base allows for the participants of your workshop to consult the data you’ve gathered during your sessions (no matter what it looks like), discuss and solve the problems you’ll give them in form of workshop activities. The ideal scenario is for the team to have access beforehand to familiarize themselves with your Wikipedia-like project pages, so if you can send the link beforehand: please do! Keep in mind that even though Notion is amazing for this, its learning curve can be a steep one when it comes to manipulating databases, so we’ll be working on a specific setup to help out your participants as much as we can.
I’ll be providing a handful of templates on Notion at the end of the post, but the rationale behind them is super important so you can adapt them to your projects. Also, if this seems like a lot of work for only a workshop session, keep in mind this is basically a way to document your research in a way you won’t need any other documents (promise!).
Step 1: Creating the databases
For starters, you’ll create two pages on Notion: the first one will allow you to group your data by session or collection; the second one will be more granular, where you’ll add the actual raw observation data. Too abstract? Well, let’s say you did a round of in-depth interviews: your first database will be called Interviewees (meaning that each interviewee was a separate session), the second one we’ll call Transcriptions (where we’ll slice up all the talking into themes). I’ll keep using the example of a round of interviews to make things more tangible, but you can surely adapt this setup for many different methods.
First database: sessions
You’ll start with a simple table on your Interviewees database, using the Name of your block to identify the participants through a well, name or title. It’s good practice to change their names into a fake one, but I still think a fake name works better than the profession and age. It just keeps them more like real people, which they are.
Second database: granular data
Now saying that you have your granular data on hand. In this case. I’m using transcriptions from the recordings of the interviews, but notes from a notetaker will work very similarly. It’s time to set up the table in which you’ll basically paste everything you have and organize it. In this case, the row’s Name will be your data so let’s rename it for what they are: Transcriptions. Next up, you’ll create the property that ties these two databases together, a Relation property that you can call Interviewees linked to the Interviewees database we’ve just created.
By doing so, you can now paste the content of your transcription on the Transcription (Name) column and add the specific participant on the Interviewees (Relation) column. Here at Nubank we even use Notion as a tool for taking notes, so when we get to the tagging part everything runs even more smoothly, no copy-pasting required.
Step 2: Organising your data
Tagging the data chunks
Now for the next part on your second database, you’ll create a column with a Multi-Select property and name it “Tags”. This is the moment when you review the data you gathered and think about how you’re going to reach it in the future. You may have a very clear image in your head of how this is going to work by mirroring you Interview Guide blocks or sections, dividing by topics or research questions that you have already mapped out. Then, all you have to do is separate your entire transcription or notes into smaller chunks that you can tag, like this:
But if you don’t have a clear picture of your themes as a system, It’s worth experimenting a bit before compromising. It’s ok to start by taking inspiration on your organization’s internal structure, per example, where squad names can be topics that people could have talked about during the interviews.
Marking Key chunks
The next step is optional but strongly recommended when you have lots of small chunks of data. Create a new row on this same table and add a Checkbox property. I usually name this one “Key”. I use this property for bits of data that define an interviewee as a person or are a perfect-fit response to the research questions of the project. The point is to make sure these gems don’t go unnoticed, and we’ll use this as a filter very soon. It looks like this:
Creating a template for your sessions pages
Back on your Interviewees database, you’ve probably noticed by now that Notion created another column on your table to make sure it has somewhere to put all those bits of tagged data you just added. Now, when you click on the name of your Interviewee you have a page for each one that you can fill up with more data about that person or session. What I do every time is to create a template so I can easily set up the same page format for every Interviewee page. It’s as simple as opening a blank page and clicking on create a template.
In my new template, I’ll create an open section for a picture of an activity I’ve run with this Interviewee (let’s say we reviewed sacrificial concepts together during the session and took pictures of the annotated concepts) to keep everything in the same place for the sake of organization.
Next up, I’ll create a view for all the Transcription bits that this specific user has said. I’ll do that by adding a Linked Database to my template in the form of a table. I’ll link this view to the Transcription database and then, use the Filter option so Notion knows I want to have an interviewee-by-interviewee visualization. If you set up the Key (Checkbox) property this is a good place to use it. Add it to the filter as well so your workshop participant can understand this Interviewee in glimpse by going through the quotes you’ve curated. We’ll finish this filter on the next step.
Adding content to your session page
When your template set up is done, give it a title (here called “Interviewee Template”), save it and start on your first interviewee. Add the template you just created on this page and finish the filters by selecting the exact Interviewee on your linked database.
After doing this for every Interviewee page, you can now access your project’s data by session, deep-diving into understanding the individuals you interviewed or, by topic, comparing what different people said about the same things. For this second one, my favorite way of doing is creating a New view on your Transcriptions database as a board grouped by Tags:
You can stop here if you want to, but I next step turns everything into something even easier to reach and digest for your participants.
Step 3: Creating workshop-ready pages
Assigning to Groups
Usually, when I plan workshops I like to give the participants the responsibility over a user or a group of users. That makes them feel like the advocates of that person’s voice and really walk in their shoes during the activities. To set this up, I’ll add another Select property (and name it Group) into the Interviewees table so I can assign the Participants’ Groups for each interviewee. I have 8 interviewees and 4 groups of participants. That gives us 2 interviewees per group, which in my experience (considering participants will range for 3–5 in a group) is a solid match. Let’s tag them accordingly:
Creating the ultimate view for Groups
Now we’ll work on creating something that a workshop participant can easily open up a link and have all the tools they need to work on the activities. Let’s create a new page for the first group and call it Group A (feel free to be more creative than that, though). We’ll talk about that later, but we’ll be using Miro as the activity solving tool, let’s add a Miro block then. Next, we’ll add a linked database to the Interviewees assigned to this group, so they can have easy access to the pages they’ll be responsible for. We’ll do that by filtering through the Group (Select) property we’ve just created.
You could now add a filtered view to the Transcriptions database as well if you want to. A good idea is to create a board view Grouped by Tags (Multi-select) like the one we added by the end of Step two and then filter by the Interviewees pertinent to this group.
Another good idea if you want to mix things up is having the group be responsible for a number of interviewees or sessions in the first half of the workshop, and switching it up for them to be responsible for a specific theme (one of the Tags) that encompasses all users in the second half. I love this approach! They’ve already empathized with users they’ve gotten to know, but are now forced to think about a larger population on a more specific scope.
After you’ve done with the first page, you can now duplicate it a few times and just change the filters accordingly to each group. You’re done :)
2. How to set up a collaborative board for workshop activities on Miro
We’ll be using Miro for this one because we’re using Notion and they look cuter together with this brand new integration. But really, I’ve used Mural in the past working just as well and I’ve seen people also use Figma get just as good results. The main point is: you need a tool where people can see what other people are doing while they write and draw to work on time-constrained activities.
Design your activities
We’ll be covering the activity design on a future post. Since we’re talking about tools today, “design” here means literally design the visuals of your activities. Don’t underestimate the power of creating canvas-like structures or using pre-made canvases that match the objectives of your research. By putting a title and a blank post-it inside of a rectangle you’re giving the participants visual cues on what they’re expected to do even if they don’t actually pay attention to your explanation.
Also, in our format, your participants will be bouncing from Notion to Miro all the time, so having clear spaces for post its, drawings and everything else helps them to have a sense of place more similar to the physical world where they’d have pieces of paper. Have all your activities’ titles, time constraints and designed spaces set up on your board before the session even starts. If you don’t want them to be spoiled by future activities (I believe this also helps them to focus on the task at hand) you can create a separate board and simply copy and paste your diagrams and canvases when the time is right.
Create a space for each group
Each group will run the same activities in slightly different scopes. So, set up a space for each one of them as they’d have by sitting on a table. Once your canvases are ready, replicate them and maybe color-code them to groups. Add an easy-to-spot group title in the area you designate for each one of them so nobody gets confused about where they should be working on. Add some blank spaces so participants can fill out their names below the title. Anything you can think that makes the space seem customizable and tangible, try it. Also, It’s a good idea to keep a link to the Notion Group Page in hand in case someone misses it.
3. How to set up your conference tool for a remote workshop divided into groups
As we’ve been discussing, the premise of our workshop assumes that you’ll have data that you’ll need to separate among groups of participants. That’s easy when you have a room and can group people into tables so they can discuss among themselves but you can also clap and bring them back to a full-team discussion. How can you do the same thing remotely?
Zoom’s Breakout Rooms
Zoom comes packed with the perfect solution for this and it’s called Breakout Rooms. All you have to do is go into your advanced properties and check the box for it. Then enter your Zoom room and create the same number of rooms as you have Groups of participants. When people join the call, as a host, you can assign them a specific room (Group!). The only thing to keep in mind about Zoom is that you’ll need a Pro license for any meeting longer than 45 min.
But what makes Zoom’s solution the best, in my opinion, is that it truly emulates the feel of facilitating a workshop in a physical space. You can make everybody quit the breakout room and go back to the main room once the time’s up and they have to share their results between-groups. People can ask for your help through the tool and have you join their room to clarify an activity. It feels just as if they’re raising their hand and you were joining their table.
Tandem or Discord
Even though I've never put these tools trough a workshop scenario, as I've used them for other purposes I feel like the room-based approach would be pretty useful. By keeping a main room and separate room for groups, one could emulate the Breakout Rooms rather easily, as long as you provide clear communication on which room to go to for each participant. It's easy to bounce from one room to another, which is perfect for your participants to join to go back and forth the main room in between activities, but also for you as a facilitator to give announcements on time and instructions.
Let’s say you want a free solution asap or that you need to work with what you already have in hand. One way to solve this to actually create multiple conference links: one for the main room and one for each group. As the facilitator, you’ll be in the main room only. You’ll need to ask when people leave the group rooms, for them to mute themselves but stay simultaneously in both calls. This way they can hear you when it’s time to finish up an activity or bounce back to the main room if they have a question. You can mix and match between Hangouts, Whereby, and other services to solve this if you need to, and It will require very good communication on your instructions. But it definitely can be done if you set up links beforehand and test it before your big day.
Final tips on tools
- For every extra tool that you use, you’ll need more testing and more licenses. Make sure to run the scenarios with a few colleagues if you’re dealing with something you’ve never used before. Also, send out invites to sign-ups beforehand using the list of people who confirmed in your workshop invite. Neither Miro nor Notion has guest logins so people will need to sign up before having editing access to your material. If your team has never used the tools, start your workshop asking for people to complete their registration before you do anything else.
- Speaking of licenses, a quick note on the tools of this article. Notion lets you invite new people as guests to your pages for free, even in the free version. Miro has temporary passes that fit situations like this as well. You’ll need Zoom Pro for your Breakout Rooms (or any meeting on the platform) to last more than 45min (which a workshop certainly does).
- The Notion knowledge base integrates beautifully with other types of research databases. This will add an incredible level of granularity to any insights repository you might build. Just as we linked two databases together in this post you could add a third one, higher-level than the sessions to group nuggets, and maybe a fourth one, grouping insights. I’m also currently experimenting with this micro-to-macro and macro-to-micro switch.
Special thanks to Amanda Elyss, Amanda Legge, Lucas Terra, Kakau Fonseca, Natália Parodi, Paula Macedo and Ricardo Sato for reviewing and giving amazing feedback on this post ❤