Photo of an online research analysis workshop with a dispersed team. One the screen is an online whiteboard showing the workshop template and people adding digital postit notes.

Collaborating on research with a dispersed team

We’re working with a start-up client who is expanding quickly. They have a successful product but wanted help with launching in another country and finding opportunities for new products. They like to be fully immersed in the research and learn as much as they can, so we are working in a highly collaborative manner.

Coordinating research with a dispersed team

Doing research totally online and with a dispersed team can make it harder to know when things aren’t working. We can’t always see what others are experiencing as well as we can when we share the same physical space. It can also be really hard to find and fix a problem when running an online video meeting with lots of moving parts. We found that taking a really systematic approach helped ensure things didn’t go wrong.

To make everything work smoothly for participants we checked in advance how much help they needed to join the video meeting. When needed we joined early with them to get things set up and make sure they were comfortable. Giving participants information in advance about who would be joining the session and what we’d be recording and who would see that helped make them feel like there were no surprises.

To make sure the sessions ran smoothly from our end we did a number of test runs of the research to check that everything was working. It helped to have a colleague act as the participant and walk through all the steps in the research, including set up and the main parts of the interview, helped us ensure things were working.

We tried to test as much as possible in advance, including making sure that observers from the client team didn’t interrupt the sessions, making sure we knew exactly how the live translation worked and checking our timings were reasonable.

Planning and doing foundational research online

In the research we wanted to learn about how people who are in debt manage their money day to day. This is a really sensitive and complex area that would be well suited to a deep contextual study over time. But our client didn’t have the time or budget for that. Their marking and design teams needed some actionable findings fast. So we had to balance the need to get a deep understanding of the people with turning around some actionable research quickly.

In the research we used an online whiteboard to replay to each participant some of the highlights they’d shared with us. This allowed them a chance to clarify, respond and reflect. It was designed to give participants control of their story. It helped to build trust and to deepen the conversation. Seeing their situation replayed to them, gave participants a slightly removed point of reflection which really helped talk about such a sensitive subject.

It’s common for people to feel ashamed of being in debt. It’s a taboo subject in many cultures. A really important part of the research was creating a non-judgemental environment for participants to share their experiences. To do this we:

– were as transparent as possible about the project
– invited participants to help us improve things for people like them
– were interested and respectful of their experiences
– established a trusting relationship between the researcher and participants
– made the research as judgement free as possible

Training the client’s design team by doing research

As well as doing the research we needed to help embed research skills in the client’s design team. To do this we:

– asked them about their skills and experience gaps
– provided some targeted support along these lines
– set up trial research sessions
– gave them the job of running a research session themselves
– we took notes during the sessions they ran and gave individual feedback to each person

This process helped to give the team a working knowledge of how to set up and run research for themselves. We helped establish the research questions, research design and the process for feeding this into product development and marketing. This gave them the building blocks to do their own research and our training helped individual team members have the skills and confidence to manage research people themselves.

Making sense of all the stories together with the client

We worked closely with the client throughout the analysis stage where we made sense of the data from the research. The workshops we ran helped the team build a firm understanding of the research. And helped direct our analysis efforts to focus on the highest value findings.

We ran these analysis workshops for anyone in the client organisation who wanted to attend. Similar to the preparations we did for the research we planned the workshops in a lot of detail thinking through how 20-30 people could participate online most meaningfully.

We delivered a detailed report that contained the voices of participants and also a high-level conceptual map we developed in analysis. This became a tool for the client to discuss their strategies.

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