HUMAN FIRST: Connecting with communities framework

At Comuzi, we help our clients answer questions about the future and render emergent technologies into next generation products and services for positive human interaction.

However, as the person on the team who focuses more on the human side during our client projects — my purpose of writing this piece is to frame the argument that humans must always come first.

My goal as a design researcher is to always create things which deeply connect with people, especially as I believe that currently a lot of products and services that have been developed are ill considered and exploitative in nature.

For a number of years now, I have been working on a framework which I would love to introduce. It is something that I have been testing this out in some of our discovery projects with our clients, especially when we are working with a community that our clients may not be traditionally be familiar with.

This framework is dedicated to connecting researchers or product oriented professionals with communities meaningfully.

The four consideration points made in this framework are to ensure that nothing is lost in translation and that there is mutual benefit between the researcher and the research communities.

How do we connect with communities in the most authentic way possible?

Identify the community:

During our discovery projects — we work with clients to develop proto-personas (adhoc version of personas), identifying the types of communities we would like to connect with to gain insight on the brief.

This practice provides the opportunity for the researcher to conduct desk research to familiarise themselves with the well known and documented customs and culture of the community of interest.

In addition to this, instead of solely doing user research participant recruitment based on traditional demographics generated from market research activities, making proto-personas can better inform recruitment for user research participants as now you are able to segment the community based on behavioural traits which identify with your project brief.

Below, is an example of a proto-persona developed for our previous project with BBC R&D.

This proto-persona was informed primarily by desk research but was enough to inform the recruitment agency on the type of people we were looking to engage for the user research interview.


Name: Marcia

Age: 21 years old

Story: Dropped out of university after studying for two years. Moved from York to London to study, lives with three others Wants to finish uni degree some day

Goals: Ambition to be a writer

Frustrations: Scared of failure, No time for news doesn’t see value in it

Type of News: News about property ladder, social media and unemployment made her anxious.

Assess media consumption of these communities:

Communicating in the terms your audience understands is paramount (WHO, 2018).

Using words and terms which are only understood by the research community toward your target audience, unless they are a bunch of researchers, is a waste of their attention.

Akil’s Tip

A researcher asking to a participant if they can conduct a ‘contextual inquiry’ into their lives sounds daunting to say the least.

Instead, asking the participant if you could shadow them for a day at work sounds much more interesting and acceptable.

Taking the time to assess the media consumption of your target audience gives you an opportunity as a researcher to package information in a way that your audience will near instantly understand (Bulger and Davison, 2018).

This can remove a significant barrier in the researcher, research participant relationship, assisting the researcher to create a good rapport with the research participants from the beginning.

Akil’s tip

E.g. Researching with a community who spends a large proportion of their time on Twitter “Is Kanye ‘cancelled’?” is a more accessible question than “Is Kanye West currently a socially accepted member of society and popular culture?”

Both questions address the same topic, but the first example allows for the research participant to express their thoughts wholly about the individual in question without feeling like they need in-depth knowledge about the world around them.

How you ask a question can leave the research participant feeling as if they can ‘come as they are’ or that they may lack in knowledge about a topic. This is something that can impact research outputs especially if the participant is no longer fully engaged.

The benefits from looking at the media consumption to connect with communities is threefold:

  1. You can develop an understanding of the type of language that should be used when communicating with your audience.
  2. You can begin to understand cultural references made by the research participants.
  3. You can draft ideas and concepts for how the insights of the research can be realised as a prototype instead of a research paper or a powerpoint presentation and place them in an ideas parking lot (Robbins, 2017).

Determine how the research topic can be authentically framed in the interest of the community:

Once you have clearly identified your research communities and have assessed their media consumption, I argue that is now possible to frame and format your research in a way which will be of interest to the community.

It is important to define the value proposition and why it would be beneficial for the community to be interested in a particular research topic as the likelihood of people participating in your research will be low (Belluz et al, 2016; Brownell et al, 2013; Feliu-Mojer, 2015 ).

Akil’s tip

I have been working with the Grae Matta Foundation on a project which is focused on re-engineering mental health services in higher education.

When we first started working on this project, we were solely focused on the organisational system of mental health in higher education and how we could fix it.

We knew it was important to talk to others as it would assist us in focusing and addressing the most pertinent problem but when we did workshops and focus groups engagement was low.

This is because when we advertised these activities we just said we were doing ‘mental health research’. No one understood the value of our work or how participating could be beneficial for them.

When we took time to identify the value proposition and communicate what we were doing the research for, and how it could benefit the student community engagement improved and we produced better quality research as a by-product.

If your study is not of any benefit whatsoever to the research participant, your communicating of the study’s purpose should be succinct and easy to understand.

Identify what these communities value:

If your study is for commercial use, we believe it is good practice to pay or incentivise user research participants who engage with your study.

Research industry practice tends to be in the form of cash but could also take the form of other things too such as vouchers, tickets, merchandise etc.

  • To successfully create a value exchange, the incentive should be well researched and the value for the community should be clearly identified.
  • The incentive should be of a reasonable amount or value which is determined by the complexity and inconvenience of the study and not by the level of risk (University of Pittsburgh, 2015).

These point are important in research projects with a low or restricted budget, as it could be part of the selling point in order for the community to participate (Brase, 2009; Bentley & Thacker, 2004).


This framework was designed to provide a simple and repeatable approach to connecting researchers with communities that they many not be familiar with.

At Comuzi, I use this framework to connect with communities for our client projects but I would say that this framework is agnostic and can be applied in different environments.

Moving forward we always look to iterate our work.

If you do try out the framework do let me know how it works for you.

You may uncover the importance in something I have assumed or the fact that I am missing a step completely, either way I would be very interested in hearing from you and your thoughts on its effectiveness, so do reach out.

If anyone would like to talk further, hit me up at

This framework came from on the job experience and these initial readings:


Belluz, Plumer and Resnick (2016) The 7 biggest problems facing science, according to 270 scientists, Vox, [Online]. Available at (Accessed 23 October 2018).

Bentley and Thacker (2004) The influence of risk and monetary payment on the research participation decision making process, BMJ Journals: Journal Of Medical Ethics, [Online]. Available at (Accessed 23 October 2018).

Brase (2009) How different types of participant payments alter task performance, Journal.Sjdm.Org, [Online]. Available at (Accessed 23 October 2018).

Bulger and Davison (2018) The Promises, Challenges, and Futures of Media Literacy, Datasociety.Net, [Online]. Available at (Accessed 23 October 2018).

Feliú-Mójer, M. (2015) Effective Communication, Better Science, Scientific American Blog Network, [Online]. Available at (Accessed 23 October 2018).

Robbins.S. (2017) How to use an ‘Ideas Parking Lot’ in four simple steps, Quick and Dirty Tips. [Online]. Available at (Accessed 25th October 2018)

Sara E. Brownell, L. (2013) Science Communication to the General Public: Why We Need to Teach Undergraduate and Graduate Students this Skill as Part of Their Formal Scientific Training, Pubmed Central (PMC), [Online]. Available at (Accessed 23 October 2018).

University of Pittsburgh (2015) Incentives for Participation in Research Studies | Institutional Review Board | University of Pittsburgh, Irb.Pitt.Edu, [Online]. Available at (Accessed 23 October 2018).

WHO (2018) WHO Strategic Communications Framework for Effective Communications, Who.Int, [Online]. Available at (Accessed 23 October 2018).

The Comuzi Journal

Thoughts and reflections by the Comuzi team on emerging technology, creativity and business futures.

Akil Benjamin

Written by

Head of Research + Founder Comuzi

The Comuzi Journal

Thoughts and reflections by the Comuzi team on emerging technology, creativity and business futures.