In-person fieldwork across countries and teams

The summer of 2023 was full of in-person fieldwork – one of our favourite activities at Stby. We worked on two back-to-back, multi-country projects for international clients. In the first, we explored how digital tools are used at work, and in the second we conducted foundational research into people’s mobility routines. Though the subjects were quite different, we deployed similar research methods using in-depth interviews and design documentaries to uncover and document the habits, needs and desires of our participants.

Staying aligned across countries and time zones with these types of projects is not easy. Luckily, we have procedures in place plus incredible partners in the Reach Network that make this process easier through consistency, organisation and communication.

Setting up a multi-country study

Over the years, we have found that a successful multi-country project is built upon an organised structure and frequent communication. In the first project, three different teams conducted in-person interviews in Brazil, India and the US, while in the second, two teams were visiting participants in The Netherlands and the UK. As you may already know, fieldwork can be a busy and mentally-consuming time, as we talk with different people every day, listen to their stories and begin to make connections between participants. With this going on across multiple countries, it is important to have consistent notes and documentation styles, to ensure that we are able to cross-analyse the data.

When a new multi-team project comes in, there are a few things on the checklist to set up in order to get a good start:

  • Create a communication channel (e.g. Slack) with all of the team members involved in the project.
  • Schedule weekly brief online sync meetings with the partners for the duration of the project.
  • Make a clear shared planning spreadsheet including project milestones.
  • Set up an online folder structure (e.g. in Google Drive) and upload all relevant documents and templates.
  • Set up an online platform for sharing rich media assets for each country (e.g. Reduct).
  • Set up an online white board for analysis (e.g. Miro).

With these things in place, we can hit the ground running with everyone on the same page.

Tools that help us stay aligned

For both projects, the discussion guide used during each interview was co-created with input from all of the research teams. This is important so that we equally understand the focus points and approach for the conversations to follow. We also included detailed instructions on how to film the design documentaries. Each team then reproduced the same (or localised) prompts to bring to the interviews.

Another thing we did to maintain consistency was to create template documents for interview notes. Each research team was free to take extra notes during the interview however they liked, but everyone then filled out the same interview notes template document after each conversation with a participant. Generally, this interview notes template entails a photo of the participant, a profile paragraph, key attributes related to the topic of the project, a title and description of each design documentary filmed, a space for key notes related to the research questions and a section for additional points and/or quotes.

The software we tend to use for managing and editing the design documentaries is Reduct. We pre-created tags to use when reviewing the films, and pre-set a structure for film length and title pages. The digital whiteboard software we tend to use during analysis is Miro. We set up individual country-specific analysis sections as well as combined global sections to ensure consistency across the sticky notes. All of these tools allow us to stay on the same page and minimise differences in structure.

Delivering local perspectives

With this set-up, we managed to create consistent rich data sets (notes, filled-out prompts, videos, etc.) across multiple locations that still held localised nuances. Maintaining a clear structure allowed us to see the differences and similarities across the markets and have conversations across the research teams about the underlying cultural reasoning.

Using this structure also allowed us to deliver results with clear insights and opportunities in a short period of time for the client teams to draw from for strategic decisions on design and innovation. This is because we were not spending extra time and energy thinking about how and where we were going to process the data, and we could easily reach each other when questions arose. We have found that creating this kind of shared sense of direction through clear structure and communication is key to a successful multi-country and multi-team project.