In February our founders, Allison Marshall and Britt Fuller, held an online discussion where we invited two experts to discuss “Spreading the love of research”. We were fortunate to have special guests, Kari Hodges, UX Research Manager at Color, and Zoë Glas, Senior UX Researcher at Google to join us for an informative discussion around finding allies, creating champions, & advocating for research in your enterprise organization.

You can view the event recording here, the slides here, or continue reading for the highlights!

Spreading the love of research

Allison began the session by talking about the ‘spark’ that made her fall in love with research. She recalled the exact project and the exact time that it happened. She was swimming in data from a big generative study, the biggest one she had ever worked on. Allison was fortunate to have a partner who was able to navigate the amount of data with ease and calmness, and in a way that created much clarity for both of them. It was at this moment that she realized that she was head over heels for research.

Zoë then spoke to how she had a few instances that stood out for her, all for different reasons. The first was for a research project built around YouTube, which was a big intercept study. There was a big emotional element to the project, which, truly showed the power of research and what it could do. Another project stood out for Zoë because there was an issue of loss aversion. What happened when they knew they were wrong about a certain element of the project and had to change their minds on how to move forward. This actually excited her – to be able to put her hands up and change track in the best interest of the project goals.

For Kari, she first found her love for user research when she was working with a company that was struggling to set up large-scale projects. A key frustration here was that they knew so much more than they were allowed to do. They felt like their hands were tied in many instances. For Kari, it felt incomplete. After some poor career advice, she came to realize that many decisions were governed by business. So, she went to get her MBA so that she could understand the framework that drove these decisions. She was then able to understand complexities around the research project and be able to frame it in a way that made sense to her. The intersection of being curious and discovery, and implementation of that discovery into things that people can actually use is what made Kari fall in love with user research.

What does it mean to advocate for research?

The conversation then moved to a focus around what it meant to advocate for research. Allison began by raising the topic of the ‘aha’ moment. She spoke about how many people are looking to recreate that spark, or ‘aha’ moment around UX. It was about understanding why someone did all the work, why they collected all the data, and how this recreation of the spark was so important for many people.

Kari agreed with Allison, especially around creating as many ‘aha’ moments across the board as much as possible, and that research played a key role in that. She spoke about how we can create those ‘aha’ moments by connecting people to the users and helping people understand them, and understanding what’s important to them. She stressed the importance of letting the decision-makers in an organization know that they have a partner in the project, a safe place, and a teammate in finding the answer, whatever it may be. “Often,” she said, “the answer may lie in actually doing the research.”

Zoë compared research advocacy to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. She explained that there is a base level where your company has a research director or someone that will make sure research isn’t laid off and that it has legs to stand on. This is the baseline at a high level, where the foundation is key. She then explained that the next level is where others help set things up for success, where there is advocacy for the researchers. The next level for Zoe was the spark. She explained the importance of putting the spark in other people, which is critical to success. For her, these are each very different but important levels.

A key message both from Kari and Zoë was having a solid foundation and alignment from the organization and the team around you. They stressed the importance of ensuring that research is in the room on key projects, during key decision-making processes. 

Zoë closed off this section by saying, “Don’t expect to be able to do it all. That’s okay.” What she was explaining was that if you need help, ask for it. This is a key part of being able to advocate for research.

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Why advocate for research?

This section of the discussion was all about asking the question: Why advocate for research? Brittany took us through a slide which highlighted four key points:

  • We get to be the spark for someone else
  • We get to move upstream and make a bigger, strategic impact on the business
  • We get to make fewer mistakes and create less waste, building things people want
  • We get to learn together, creating shared experiences and understanding

Zoë jumped in shining the light on the importance of moving a career forward. She explained that you shouldn’t only think of projects as impactful for your company, but also for your career. She learned a saying from a colleague that stuck with her. “Unintended consequences are your responsibility,” she said. She went on to give an example of a new strategy that Facebook had launched some time ago, where the privacy of groups on the platforms changed. Facebook had done this with the intention of building a great community, connecting individuals with similar likes and wants. There were severe and tragic outcomes. People didn’t advocate for it. She learned a huge lesson from that – where she now always thinks about how something may be misinterpreted or taken. When asked why advocate for research, Zoë’s answer was simple but impactful. You have the distinct privilege to keep millions of people safe and cared for,” she said. “This is the greatest thing about our work.”

For Kari, it was about creating a shared language across the company. She is of the firm belief that it is not enough to be a sole advocate, and to be involved in the ego that comes with that. Her hope is to create and facilitate a community of research advocates. The idea is to facilitate a language of caring,” said Kari. “While democratizing the research is important, it’s more important to democratize the care. The more people that care, the more you can create accountability when you are not there. And, we need to have people accountable for a standard that we have set - regardless of where the project is. Kari believes that through advocacy we create accountability. She closed this session with the following statement: “I advocate for research because you are ultimately going to create an environment in which customers stay.”

Advocacy can be informal or formal

The discussion then shifted around language of how research advocacy may show up within your organization, bothin formal and informal ways. This was an important reminder to meet people where they are, it doesn't always have to be such a formal effort. Here are the examples of these advocacy motions discussed:

Quoting a Jewish saying, Zoë said, “He who saves one life is as if he has saved the entire world.” What she was describing was the importance of finding one person, one partner, and then getting them on board. If you can do that, you can get everyone on board.

This led the conversation into the importance of finding allies and creating champions, something which Zoë and Kari have adopted wholeheartedly.

What’s the role of an ally in advocacy?

During this section of the discussion our guests touched on these questions :

  • Why do we need allies?
  • What makes a good ally?
  • Where & who do you start with?

Kari had some great feedback here, talking about how people are looking to punch up in their careers but not at the risk of burning out. She suggested tp map out the power ecosystem of the organization. Identify who has the power and who are the information brokers in the space. Then, it’s about understanding who can act on decisions in the business and who’s buy in do you really need. Kari believes this is an important step in creating allies and creating research advocacy in the company.

Allison then took everyone through the final slides which focused on ongoing research advocacy, where the group discussed small steps and bigger initiatives that are aligned to that. There were four key questions that were discussed.

  • How do you balance advocacy with other responsibilities?
  • What would you say to encourage newcomers to the industry about research advocacy?
  • What’s an initiative that you’re working on related to research advocacy this year?
  • How do you create balance?

For Zoë, she gives a great deal of thought into her work, researching users and her team. For her, it’s about understanding where people are coming from. Perhaps she is missing something that someone else has greater context on. There may be some background that she is missing. She highlighted these areas as something we should all work on to improve our research advocacy.

Kari closes this section of the panel discussion with comments around the thought that advocacy for a user is advocacy for yourself. She spoke about the importance of being seen outside of your team – whether that be in marketing, finance or even the CEO of the business. She said, “It’s really important that you have visibility in the business. People will reach out to someone who they think has the answer, which is important.”

We are so thankful to have been able to host such great guests during this event. This was such an important topic that we hold close to our hearts. You can view the event recording here, the slides here, and be sure to join us for our next event!

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