Ben Holliday recently posted a Digital Academy blog called ‘Understanding the problem’. It’s an introduction to understanding the problem when you’re working with a team on a service in discovery. As well as developing a research plan to get started, he explained the importance of finding ways to record (and keep a record of) everything you’re learning. In this post, I’ll explain how to do this in more detail.
Before you start
Before you start, consider working in a pair. You’ll find it’s much easier if one person is asking questions and someone else is concentrating on capturing feedback.
Capture observations using sticky notes
One of the best tools you can use for capturing observations is the sticky note. They’re great for grouping observations later when you get to your analysis. Use these 5 tips when writing sticky notes - if you don’t want to use sticky notes the same principles apply to keeping research notes.
- Write one observation per sticky note
The more information each sticky note holds, the harder it is to understand and organise later. You might miss important information by writing more than one observation or adding too much detail to a single sticky note.
- Capture the thing, not your interpretation of the thing
It’s important to capture what’s happening, not what you think it means. Interpretation comes later. Right now, you want an accurate record of what people have said and done.
- Make sure you know who said what
Label your observations so you can identify the people taking part in your research. An easy approach is to give each person you speak to a number, then label each observation you write down with the corresponding number.
- Don’t use jargon, acronyms, or shorthand
Write observations so other people can understand them. You shouldn’t have to explain these to people if they’re clear and concise.
Make sure other people can read your handwriting – using uppercase for legibility is a good idea.
- Personal data
Finally, don’t capture personal information, which could allow someone to be identified. Names, national insurance numbers, addresses, etc., shouldn’t be recorded. You need to think: “If I lost this, could someone identify who this person is?”
Making sense of your observations
Once you have got all your interviews done, the next step is to look for common themes in your observations. A good technique for this is affinity sorting.
As many people from the team as possible should be involved in the analysis stage. Involve everyone who’s been directly involved with your research.
You’ll need a big space, preferably a wall to post up your observations. Using affinity sorting, organise each sticky note into related groups. This isn’t an exact science so don’t feel that once you have put a sticky somewhere you have to leave it there - that’s the reason we use sticky notes.
- Read your first sticky note and stick it up on the wall
- Read the second sticky note. Is it related to the first observation or is it about something different?
- If it’s different, then stick somewhere else on the wall.
- If it’s the same, group this with your first sticky note. If you’re not sure put it somewhere close by.
Read out each observation, if this helps. Make sure everyone involved in the room is clear about what happened when the research took place.
Keep going until you’ve sorted through all your observations. This can take as long as a few hours, depending on how many observations you’ve captured during your research.
You should be able to see themes emerging from your groupings. At this stage label your groups as insights – the interpretation of what we think each group of data actually means.
Make your findings visible
It’s important to make your research as visible as possible to your team. Get a wall, a board, or a window – anywhere you can display user needs or insights from research.
There’s no hard and fast rule about how to write up your research, but concentrate on communicating key themes or insights to your team. Keep records of what you’ve learnt each time you do research so you can go back to it and review it, and compare it with all the new things you are learning.