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Do UXRs Embrace Non-Researchers?
A couple of weeks ago I got an email from someone I’d been on a Hangouts call with. A few of us had gathered for a post-UXRConf discussion on Research Ops.
In the email he referenced something I had said in our conversation, that, “Sometimes researchers don't embrace non-researchers”, and asked the following:
Something struck me that you said about how "researchers don't embrace non-researchers". I have had a bit of this feeling in my experience… I totally get the idea that people can't just up and be a researcher… Do you have any advice for someone like me who knows a bit but wants to learn? How do I show veterans that I am being respectful of UXR while still finding a place to embrace [research] and move my practice forward?
It took me two weeks to think about how to respond to this partially because I needed to think about it but also because… well it’s a pretty depressing question in my view. And it’s not the first time I’ve heard it.
When did we, as researchers, stop trying to include others in our work?
When did we stop trying to teach others about research? When did we decide that we owned all forms of research, all the time?
Look, I get it. For years, being a researcher has been less than fun. For some context, here’s some of the things I’ve had to deal with in the past few years:
A company which raised >$100,000,000.00 informing me there was no money for incentives for people testing our prototype
A former manager, who was “Director of Product Strategy and Research”, not knowing that synthesis takes more than a few hours
A manager, who on a research consulting project, did not think it necessary to do any qualitative research for the client and instead rely on dicing up data from Statista reports
For years I have found it incredibly frustrating to be a researcher, so much so that after my last research role I promised myself I wouldn’t take another research job. I was just way too miserable. But things are different now.
I think for the first time in our collective professional lives, research is cool. Like really, really cool. CEOs are asking us for answers. Product leaders are involving us in strategy discussions and designers are asking us for our support regularly.
But this renewed interest in research has brought with it a new interest from non-researchers in doing the actual research work itself. This is a good thing, right?
I feel a hesitation amongst the research community regarding letting others (non-researchers) join in on our research activities. Now that we’ve finally earned a seat at the table and the appreciation of our colleagues it feels unfair that others, who haven’t worked as hard to earn their way, are jumping in.
Because of how hard its been for many of us, we’ve developed a protectionist attitude about our practice, and sometimes even hostility when non-researchers want to participate.
I think this is not in the best interest of our practice or our careers. The more we involve others, the more influence we develop and the more impact we’ll have (read Behzod’s article on democratizing research for more on how we can do just that).
To be clear, this doesn’t mean that non-researchers are able to participate in every project, or that we shouldn’t be leading research efforts. Our leadership and expertise is absolutely required for non-researchers to do research well, and I think Molly Stevens’ talk at UXRConf and subsequent blog post outlines how we should think about our roles as research leaders and specialists.
But this protectionist attitude we’ve been slowly developing is not helpful at all in our effort to achieve our potential. It puts up walls when we should be building bridges. It creates barriers to participation when we should be paving new paths. Yes, it’s been hard for all of us the past few years, but we’ve crossed the chasm and have made it to the proverbial promised land.
So what could those new bridges and paths look like? Without going into too much detail, here are a few examples:
Setting up office hours to help colleagues practice interviewing skills and building discussion guides
Creating templated surveys and usability test outlines that non-researchers can easily use on their own
Inviting coworkers to observe and even participate in our research planning and strategy sessions
If we want to continue our ascent up the corporate ladder we need advocates all around us. People become advocates when we invite them into the insights factory and let them press some buttons, pull some levers, and see what happens (with supervision of course 😂). Without knowing how the factory operates, it’s hard to fully appreciate the complexity and intentionality that goes into one of the factory’s final products, such as your research report.
Our openness as a discipline to sharing our challenges and successes with each other is what’s allowed us to advance so quickly and prosper. It’s time we extended that openness to non-researchers who want to join the research party as well.
Let’s dance 🕺💃
P.S. if you found this helpful, or have any feedback or suggestions for future posts feel free to DM me on Twitter or email me at alec [at] uxrcollective [dot] com.