What is ResearchOps? A view from beyond the bubble, at the edge of the world

Hobart, Tasmania

Almost 2 months ago, we held a little workshop in Hobart, Tasmania on the subject of ‘What is ResearchOps’. I can’t believe how the time has flown.

It was a small gathering, just 5 people and 2 facilitators. The participants had a particular kind of bent- I hadn’t advertised too widely that we were doing it, and so it was people I knew plus people they thought would have something to bring to the table that arrived on the day.

I didn’t want to write a post about our Hobart workshop. The community is too small to avoid people being easily identifiable and so, although their hard work contributes equally along with the work from our Washington workshops and our London workshops in equal measure (go team!), I didn’t want to call attention to what we’d said or done in case it was too obvious who’d said a thing.

But there was one important thing that happened on that day, which I think is unique, and worth calling out because dammit, if we always talk to the people we know, we’ll always hear what we have already heard, yes?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about user research, it is that no matter the method, our sole aim, our one true goal, is to break free from the bubble we’re held within, even when it’s our bubble we’re breaking.

Our job is to bring the voice of our customers or our users to the people making the products or making the decisions and reframe conversations, upend designs from product centred, to human centred. Our job is to see the bubble our product managers and designers and policy makers are in and to point out the edges- to poke holes through until we can step outside the bubble altogether.

But what if we are inside a bubble too?

We are, of course we are. Our perception of the world and our experience of it creates the size and shape of our bubbles, and try as we might, at times, even though we’re professionals, we find it hard to see the edges of our bubbles.

What the Hobart workshop made me realise, even though it took a while, is that we are inside a user research bubble, and so perhaps while it was important to ask the people in the bubble what ResearchOps is, it’s even more important that in some of the workshops, we got to ask someone from outside the bubble too.

I’ve been on a personal crusade of sorts, this past year, to understand and map the researchers and their minds. To map their frameworks, to observe and document the magic that makes user research what it is. But I forgot to look outside the bubble and ask: ‘what is ResearchOps to you, oh person from beyond the bubble?’

When research is done well, what does it look like? What are the things you see? If you’ve seen user research done badly, what did that look like? What was missing? What were you doing when you noticed this thing you think of as ResearchOps?

There was one person in particular who came to the Hobart workshop who wasn’t a user researcher, but had to consume user research. And to that person, what ResearchOps was was consistency, it was clarity. It was extensibility.

We live in a world of context. It’s not a natural home for extensibility. Some might say that it is the antithesis of that. But listening to Leisa Reichelt’s talk on ‘Quantifying qualitative research’ recently, she brought clarity to this point. The reason we lack extensibility could be that as much as we think we’re user focused and customer obsessed, we’re really just asking questions about the product. An extensible piece of research is just so because we’ve stepped beyond our bubble and into the perspective of our customers. Our customers do not care what the product is called, they just want it to fit their lives. Just as we all know we cannot build or create something that fits a person’s life unless we know from their perspective, what their life is like, we can’t really truly know what ResearchOps is, until we ask some people experiencing ResearchOps. That is our participants and our consumers of our research as much as it is the people doing the research themselves.

I hear often that Tasmanians are a special bunch, with a special way of framing the world, and this workshop was no different. Special thanks to the participants who gave their time, energy and effort to reframe our thinking, to step beyond what we had and to think about ResearchOps as a complete circle, with users at the centre, naturally.