The danger of the big research reveal

Earlier in the year, I ran an industry survey about the use of research to inform a piece I was writing for Net Magazine. 79% of those I surveyed said that audience/user research played a key role in their decision making process - brilliant! I then asked about audience/user research findings being readily available to them and 22% said 'no' - they didn't have access to such information. This made me sad.

Sad cat was sad

Sad cat was sad

I recently started my new job as Research Director at Monotype. This is a new role for Monotype. Research already happens a plenty at Monotype, it's just that there wasn't one person co-ordinating and joining this up across the division before. It's now my job to pull together all the great research being done, to make sure it's coordinated and really has an influence. It's a little daunting if I'm honest but I'm up for a challenge.

I've written previously about how I think research is everyone's job and can help you make better decisions. I believe that I am not here to get in the way of all the great work already being done and to do every single piece of research, for every single project at Monotype. I see my role as more of a Research Facilitator. My aim is to empower everyone in the team to get involved with research - whether that be running a research project, watching people use our products, drafting a survey or facilitating a session where research insights are used.  

Prior to this job, I've spent an equal amount of time working in agency side research roles and as an in-house client side researcher. In both roles, the times I've seen the most 'lightbulb' moments have been when clients, producers or designers have been fully immersed in the research process and not just a receiver of research findings. Just like in design/client relationships, there is a real danger with a 'big reveal' for research projects too. The Research Debrief, PowerPoint strategy or the 32 page report is not the research. It's an artefact of a conversation, of a collaboration. Being involved in the process is the research and will give you, the decision maker, the insights you need. Discussing, sharing and jointly deciding on outcomes is the important bit.

Getting people involved in the research process is key - get them to be part of a project or to do their own research but also involve them in the analysis. For example, our preferred method of analysis for interviews is the collaborative post it note, affinity sort method (nicely documented on the GDS blog) and preferably this should be done in a physical space. Remote analysis is trickier to get right. The act of sorting and moving physical bits of paper and conversations around this is way easier and (I think) more insightful than the same process via Trello boards and skype or similar. With globally distributed teams at Monotype however, this is something we need to get right.

So, if people are involved that's enough right? Well you may have had the most fantastic collaborative session, 'lightbulbs' going on all over the place and you came up with some fantastic recommendations but this is no good unless you are transparent and share what you have learned. Your process and outcomes need to be captured and documented clearly for others to see. Straight forward and clear is better than snazzy and fancy. You can build on straightforward with snazzy for different audiences who absorb information in different ways after the fact - eg posters, videos, personas, user stories. MailChimp and GDS have documented some interesting ways that they share learnings across their organisations.

I'd argue that sharing specifics is pretty simple but what about the general insights/stuff you learn that's not always the core remit of the research but crops up along the way? What if it might come in useful at another point? How do you capture this without building an expensive and complicated database? Again, with a globally distributed team and research happening across the organisation, the challenge for us is to pull learnings out of individual heads and find ways to share them across teams. 

Two months into my new role and I am still yet to meet many of my new colleagues and get to grips with how things work. There's an awful lot to learn. I am really enjoying it though - being a client side researcher again feels a little like coming home to a comfy pair of slippers.