Day 2- Research Democratization: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

— Happy to be here, and would like to share  my take on research democratization or RD
  • Want to promote different sides of this tool
  • Some parts are good, bad, and ugly, so I’ll speak how to use properly




— What is RD?
  • Empowering people who are not professional researchers to start doing research, and gathering data and providing insights
— Can be powerful in so many ways
  • I use it quite a lot in my practice, and something powerful in our practice



— Last week, I asked what people thought about RD. Was it good, bad?
  • Wide range of responses with many takes on this and a lot to explore
  • Some may see value or may be ambivalent



— If we look at what other experts say we can also see conflicting opinions
  • Leis Reichelt said DR can be used to incentivize team to move too quickly and can lead to bad research results
  • Jared Spool asked what is meant by DR, and that the term can be used in an arrogant way




— So let’s explore the gray part and think what the tool can do for you and when not
  • I’ve built a framework and a set of case studies to analyze


— Framework is 2×2 with research maturity in organization as the x axis
  • If insights drive company decisions, then you have impact, and are mature
  • For this can look at a UXR maturity model
—  Presence of Researches is the Y-axis, and this is not just a numerical amount


— Where are you in all this?
  • As team of one
  • Embedded: Tactical research that’s hard to snap out of
  • Strategic Power & Impact: Many people and driving decisions, and high research maturity and peers to do research with and impact on product
— Have you decided where to go? How can RD help you with your goals?


— If you are in the holy grail of maturity, and research presence, does RD work?
  • Question you might ask: Why bother, given that you have the resources?
— Don’t have to do DR in this case, but dimension you are in is not static as team may shrink, and maturity might change
  • In sense doing some work with research will help you nurture empathy and understand audience better
— Not a must have though


— But what if there is research capacity, but focused on tactical research?
  • It can be very useful to help you understand work and how it’s needed
— The more researchers help others learn what’s it’s like,  the more you will learn that research has a lot of value in early stage/last stage of process


— So a story from the field, pre-pandemic
  • I was working for media house and had relatively large team
  • Often asked to be involved at late stage in projects, like validation
— Asked if we could do an experiment with them
  • Did research safari to see if staff members would get involved with first hand research
  • Around 40 staff members signed up from marketing, journalism, product and tech
— Throughout week, helped by facilitating interviews by talking first hand through the audience and doing guerrilla testing and hosting group discussions, card sorting exercises
  • Outcome was not amazing insights for our team
— We ran around trying to facilitate and organize, and people were going in blind to how things were done before and not asking why


— We did get good experience though
  • In company, there was buzz around conversation and having departments work together and conversations with subscribers that they didn’t have before
  • They grasped the value of qual research, and the team was involved further
— It helped increase the understanding of our team


— What if you have low-presence, but high maturity?


— This is where DR helps you advocate for expansion and grow more


— A story from field, where I was product designer, which involved the entire team
  • Involving whole team in both taking notes and analyzing, got better discussions
— One stepping stone after insights, and helped increase case for hiring more researchers
  • People were more eager to expand budget for research team
— Another thing can happen is that people in the company  who experience UXR can also be internally converted to join the team


— For those who are team-of-one, and company does not have a great understanding of value you can bring to the company, and lack of complexity


— DR can work to free up time for high value goals
  • But here it becomes murky and ugly
  • Quite often, in this situation you will have long and messy road
    • Can also be that you will end up overloaded with work of facilitating and organizing admin portion of research


— For example, there was executive demand to empower decisions, but it felt too overwhelming to do that by yourself
  • Risk of high expectations, but inadequate capacity to pull it off. That can be very hard


— Pitfalls to watch for:
  • Risk of research happening in silos, disconnected from sharing insights widely
    • Doing research and not connecting to other insights to build on
  • Another is admin overload, and support for a ResearchOps function can overwhelm your duties as a UXR
  • Professional development can gain from DR from teaching it to others, but is that where you will grow and learn most
    • For some this may be yes
    • For others this might not be the case
  • People will learn and understand craft themselves
    • Example of Greg Bernstein, big advocate for DR, who wrote article that he changed his mind— and letting researchers do research
      • Worth talking with teams, and what helps people in their professional development
      • For if people feel they are not growing professionally, they will go elsewhere


— Looked at framework.
  • Idea of time and space to do more strategic work is a fallacy
— DR does increase presence of power and impact


— DR had increased understanding and help increase presence of researchers, The more you share your craft, the more you can share


— We often deal with impostor syndrome, and sense of ‘are you any good in what you’re doing?’
  • One way to teach others and how to share practices
  • Also more than one way to do DR, which involves lots of experimentation
    • Fun to see how much energy can be brought o an effort
— Overall pros and cons that depend on what you want to do, and where you want to push yourself and researchers within company
  • Maturity, Hiring, or Professional Growth
  • Up to you to explore where you want to go



— Topic is dear to my thought and would love to talk more through Slack/email


— Can be super-creative to work this way


  1. I’m still a junior researcher. Can you clarify what you mean by democratized research?


—> When democratizing, you teach others and empower them to do research themselves and letting them sit in on a session
  • You let them write manuscripts and analyze outcomes
  1. How to negotiate tension between being expert and sense of ‘anyone can do it’?
—> Commonly heard that if  anyone can do UXR, why have a research team?
  • Takes so much more than just taking right questions, but rather understanding what these questions mean
—> Showing people what it is, leads to greater demand
  1. How to address issue of researchers having different conclusion than stakeholders?
—> People might go into some sessions, and prove ideas in their heads, and use that knowledge against you. This happens when they are not involved in the whole process


—> It’s a risk that can happen
  • When you let other teams do research, do draw conclusion that you do not see and risk of the work
  1. You said that it’s a fallacy that democratization does not lead to more time for strategic research? Is this because more time is needed to support DR?
—> Yes, it’s a fallacy


—> You need a ReOps function to enable and facilitate things.
  • And you will find yourself doing operational work instead of research
  1. Different decisions of DR? Executives involved?
—> Not well-defined and one standard of democratization. Including in interviews can be DR
  • But many levels, and where you do things and doing things hands-on like whole process
    • Such as setting objective and outcomes used in a product
  • Different levels, can be all-in or a try-out
  • Have involved executive leadership in this
    • Did similar experiment and CEO took notes and sat in on work-sessions
  • Do like having everyone involved, as that gets so much buy-in