Emma Boulton
Jul 11 · 8 min read

How can you get started with Research Ops unless you understand what’s important to User Researchers? Read on to find out.

Last year @TeamReOps undertook a global adventure with the #WhatIsResearchOps project culminating in the Framework.

The #WhatIsResearchOps Framework

The framework was created with data from a 300+ response survey and insights from 33 workshops. We wanted to be able to give the workshop participants some context, so we kick started our analysis using the open ended survey responses to the question:

‘What are the challenges with operationalising research in your organisation?’

The result was a taxonomy and set of tags we could use for tagging up the workshop insights.

After the workshops we focused on mapping our understanding of what ResearchOps is and creating our definition.

#WhatIsResearchOps — the definition

As we have been sharing this definition and the framework at conferences and meet ups, we’ve been asked a lot of questions. Many of the questions have centred around ‘how does this work in practice?’ and ‘how do I get started?’.

In short, we’ve realised that it depends.

It depends on the maturity of the organisation, it depends on how big the team is, who your researchers are and how much research is happening. It depends on executive buy in, scope and resources.

As we talked through these topics on Slack and in person, we realised we had some data sitting there that could help us understand more. Earlier this year we came back to the rest of this data and set about doing some further analysis. There’s more to share.

Introducing, the eight pillars of User Research.

The Eight Pillars of User Research

These eight pillars are the broad areas of User Research. Underneath these pillars sit groups of things that User Researchers or ‘people who do research’ (PWDR) are concerned with. Many of these things are challenges to operationalising research.


First, Environment — this was the pillar people talked most about as being a challenge to operationalising research. It’s one we hear about all the time.


Second, Scope — the bulk of the work. The how and when — processes, methods.

Recruitment and admin

Third, Recruitment and admin. Something that every researcher grapples with and often a trigger to think about Research Ops.

Data and Knowledge Management

Fourth, Data and Knowledge Management — a really hot topic! Often valuable insights are lost over time as teams grow and change. How do we ensure the same studies aren’t repeated?


Fifth, People. It’s not just User Researchers who do research. Research maybe done by designers and product managers. Can we create a community of practice to support and mature the craft? What does a mature career path look like?

Organisational context

Sixth, Organisational Context. What is the maturity level of the organisation? What are the external constraints?


Seventh, Governance. What are the legal and ethical considerations that affect our work?

Tools and Infrastructure

Last, Tools and Infrastructure. We love shiny new tools, don’t we?


It’s no wonder so many User Researchers are feeling under pressure. With all this extra work, our focus gets diluted.

This is a lot!

By understanding these pillars, we can start to think about how to operationalise research in our organisations. We can start to think about where a Research Ops layer might come in. If we bring in Research Ops as a layer it could start to look like this.

Add in a Research Ops layer

Some of this work moves upwards and becomes something we can label as ‘Research Ops’. This enables us to track these tasks and measure how long they take. By doing this we have the means to ask for more help. Perhaps these tasks are just shared across the team but it could also enable us to bring in a Research Ops specialist with a clear remit and skillset. This is the starting point to build the business case. Once you have that, you can use the framework to map out your Research Ops layer in more detail. As Kate Towsey said at UXRConf, “hiring research ops people means your researchers can focus on what they’re good at.”

Building your Research Ops capability

With that goal in mind, let’s Zoom in on the Research Ops framework to see which parts are most relevant to each pillar.

First, Environment. For this one, it comes down to maturity of the Research practice. Chris Avore’s Design Research maturity model informed our early thinking in this space.

Chris Avore’s design Research Maturity Model

More recently, we have also been influenced by Leah Buley’s work for Invision.

Leah Buley for InVision

In the report, Leah writes that “teams move from Level 2 Connectors to Level 3 Architect Teams as they implement infrastructure that enables design at scale. This is where ops comes in — specifically hiring semi-dedicated or dedicated people to fill the types of roles associated with a systematic approach, including designers, engineers, and product managers who focus exclusively on creating systems for design at scale.”

If we understand how mature the research practice is in an organisation, we can be realistic about what we are likely to achieve and what the next likely steps need to be.

Next, Scope.


Guidelines and Templates is a simple way to get started with Research Ops — bringing all the templates and guidelines together in one place. This is particularly important if you have lots of non researchers doing research and you need to educate and coach them.

Third, Recruitment and admin.

Recruitment and admin

This is often the pain point that starts people thinking about research operations. Handling recruitment and admin is a massive time suck for researchers. Depending on the maturity and cadence of the research practice, this will need to work differently for different organisations.

In a mature organisation, a good research recruitment desk should provide both internal and external sources of participants, understand design and user research processes and needs, and handle the full sweep from sampling and screening, to scheduling and paying incentives, to closing the loop with respondents and participants.

Fourth, Data and Knowledge Management.

Data and Knowledge Management

Knowledge management is about how we make knowledge gained through research actionable, relevant contextualised and understandable. This is really complex and we’ve seen the rise of the User Research Library as a result. Asset management is about how you manage and store raw or processed data.

Related to knowledge management is how we communicate our research so that it can be impactful

Fifth, People.


ResearchOps is not just about efficiency, support and data. People and relationships are key. Building capability was a strong theme we heard throughout the #WhatIsResearchOps workshops.

Researchers want clarity on their career path, and support in growing their experience, skill sets, confidence and opportunities.

Sixth, Organisational Context.


Ops can help by tracking budgets and spend in a systematic way.

Research spaces

Research spaces is an interesting part of the framework — it’s not just about labs or physical spaces to conduct research, but about the space (physical and virtual) to come together to work collaboratively

Seventh, Governance.


This is about providing researchers with an informed framework for conducting research that is safe, legal and very importantly, ethical.

Lastly, Tools and Infrastructure.

Procurement, licensing and management of software and hardware is a time suck that can’t just be left to IT.

You can see how moving some of this work to be someone else’s responsibility can help researchers focus on what they are good at.

Help researchers focus on the research

By understanding these eight pillars we can draw together what is important for both Researchers and Research Ops specialists.

The Research Ops community is now a huge (2300 and growing!) group of people who are passionate about research and all wrestling in some way with the scaling of research and how we respond to that.

We are also a community of people who care about how we develop the profession of Research Operations. ResearchOps practitioners are dedicated to amplifying the power of research by enabling it to scale and grow in organizations.

The eight pillars act as the scaffolding between researchers and ReOps as we work on our common goals. The ResearchOps Community is continuing to work through the data we have on these pillars with each of our global projects, and no doubt our thinking will evolve over time.

If you’d like to join us, the ResearchOps Community Slack join form is here. Otherwise please see below for more reading/listening on how to get started with Research Ops:

Get started with Research Ops:

  1. Explore the framework: https://bit.ly/2EmQun7
  2. Explore the Kumu visualisation: https://bit.ly/2ZD8rEK
  3. Kate Towsey, User Interviews podcast: https://bit.ly/2X2M6nl
  4. Aaron Fulmar from Microsoft: https://bit.ly/2Yahcpt
  5. Lucy Walsh from Spotify: https://bit.ly/2PuWETK
  6. Hana Nagel’s Research Ops Owl Part 1: https://bit.ly/2J4ZTzI and Part 2: https://bit.ly/2LdFN93

Words based on a talk given by Emma Boulton at User Research London 2019. Original slide deck authored by Kate Towsey and designed by Nishita Gill. Evolved over time by Brigette Metzler, Emma Boulton, Holly Cole and Tomomi Sasaki. With contributions from many of the other organisers and the rest of the Cheese Board.


Talking about how to operationalise research

Emma Boulton

Written by

Design/ User Research Leader. Writer. Previously leading research @Monotype and ex @BBC Audience Research. Founder of Mark Boulton Design and Five Simple Steps.


Talking about how to operationalise research

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