Whether you are an early-career or an experienced researcher, you must have heard the term ‘democratize’ umpteen times in different contexts, primarily in the context of influencing research maturity in your organization. It is an underrated part of a UXR’s role, and is often a key factor in determining growth in career trajectories too.
Be it a solo, mid-sized or a fully grown research team, democratization of research could happen at different levels, with each creating a deeper opportunity to allow non-researchers to be a part of the process, and fostering a culture where larger group of individuals, teams consider research as a non-negotiable in any project.
If you are new to this process or considering starting, here’s a basic framework called "IDEATE" that can help you begin, quickly.
Let's discuss each one in detail:
The first step in democratizing research is to identify potential areas that can be impacted by research and deliver results in a shorter time frame. These could be: low-hanging fruits related to product, business, strategy, or even people problems.
It's important to filter out statements where research is merely an enabler and not a direct impact on an outcome. They need to be quick as that would make way for you, to further own deeper problem statements in the future.
The second stage of this step is to identify people (resources) who can be part of the research process. This is critical as they will provide the first layer of feedback on the entire effort and show early signs much before the rest of the organization does. A well-distributed team across functions would be the ideal setup.
One of the ways I do so is reading up all documentation that has been created over the past quarter and making a sense of the key priorities being worked upon.
Post that, conducting a quick internal survey with stakeholders, trying to understand what matters to them the most works pretty well. This is async, and allows you to build a larger narrative of the organization.
Once you have identified your opportunity areas and resources, stack rank each against a constant metric - ideally it should be the North Star metric, so that you prioritize what the organization is.
At this point, there should be a picture of
a) the key problem statements you are trying to impact
b) the people (non-researchers) who will be a part of your journey to get there.
An extremely crucial step is to delegate parts of the process across the team (including non-researchers) and train at every stage if required. Involvement is a great trust lever, and often compounds with time. This part of the process is iterative, and can take some time ⎯ it is well worth the effort since it would eliminate chances of having any uninformed teammate at any given point in time. Create a rapport very early-on
Remember, you are a researcher but your team members in entirety may not be (although it’s often believed there’s a researcher in everyone, you just need to bring it out in them). Spend time doing what you do best - empathize ; create small milestones which are achievable to start with and focus on being in their (non-researcher’s) shoes.
I’ve tried different ways to enable first-time researchers, including creating playbooks, and hosting workshops. Try out both, and see what works more effectively.
As some outputs start showing in, the same degree of empathy should be exercised with stakeholders who receive your research outputs as inputs since they may be in an entirely different context altogether.
It is often helpful to prepare and deliver insights customized to their needs (e.g. shorter reports with key insights, or longer reports with detailed insights or simply artifacts) and take inputs from functional team members before presenting them.
To ensure that research artifacts get due visibility, making conscious efforts to amplify insights generated alongside due credits to those involved sows a seed of curiosity. There may not be everyone noticing, but some always do, and making such insights spread far and wide, especially when non-researchers have been a part of the process takes it a step ahead.
Share widely and regularly, and keep experimenting with ways to improve and encourage active and passive consumption. In one of my workplaces, we used to send out a newsletter every week with bite sized insights from user research, which was well received and had a lot of readers.
There is no one size fits all approach towards evangelizing research ; it is often helpful to test maturity in the organization through rapid overview of past outcomes and run quick pilots with smaller groups (within a function) to understand which approach leads to better outcomes such as readiness for further research or aptitude for conducting research in the near future.
Several proxies also can be used to indicate success levels of each approach. A quick way to test these would be to focus on one key metric for each level ; Eg. Research insights being included in the strategy roadmap for the next quarter or a stakeholder request for conducting a workshop on a research method 101.
Democratization is not a one-time endeavor. It requires several iterations to reach a state of permanence, where it is not affected by organizational shifts or macro developments since it’s a default state of mind for everyone in the organization.
In order to do so, it is recommended that you evaluate the success of every sub-activity in the process of making research accessible to all on a single baseline of your choice. It could be the number of non-researchers who have been a part of the process, the number of research outputs that have been actioned upon, or the time taken to complete a research project from ideation to delivery, as a team.
Based on the evaluation, make changes and improvements to the process, and continue to iterate until you have a sustainable, democratized research culture in your organization.
Overall, democratization of research can be treated as an entire project in itself and its approach can be more focused with growing levels of adoption organization-wide - starting with Individual Contributors (ICs) being a part of the process to CXOs regularizing research within their workflows at its peak.
About the Author:
Abhinav is a UX Researcher with a passion for creating delightful human-centered experiences in digital products. He has worked with early to growth stage startups in fintech, health-tech and consumer internet spaces across consumer and enterprise products.