Conference Program

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Theme 1: Research as a Transformational Force

Change can only be achieved when we raise up the voices of all—in and outside our walls. During Day One of Advancing Research, we’ll examine new ideas and practices from researchers like you who’ve made research more ethical and inclusive. And we’ll challenge ourselves to take a good, hard look in the mirror and see what we—as individual researchers and as a community—need to do to continue pushing for equitable change.

Change can only be achieved when we raise up the voices of all—in and outside our walls. During Day One of Advancing Research, “Research as a Transformational Force,” we’ll examine new ideas and practices from researchers like you who’ve made research more ethical and inclusive. And we’ll challenge ourselves to take a good, hard look in the mirror and see what we—as individual researchers and as a community—need to do to continue pushing for equitable change.

After 7 years of working in UX Research Leadership roles, Lisanne left the field behind to return to education. In this talk, she will discuss the significant challenges she faced as a Black woman in UX leadership that ultimately culminated in a leave of absence and then subsequent decamping from the field. The retention rate for WOC researchers is low in the field, and there is an inherent need to understand what are some of the root causes and what can be the potential solutions to retain and potentially re-engage more WOC researchers whose perspectives, experiences, and expertise are needed in this field.

Empathy is widely held as an important research mindset among designers. Many design research processes begin with the word. While empathy is broadly necessary to design practice, it is not without its problems. Most designers and researchers do not also know the dangers of empathy. Consider that:

  • We confuse and conflate empathy, sympathy, and compassion. The differences are critically important.
  • Empathic resonance in the brain is extremely biased. We find it hard to empathize with people unlike ourselves.
  • Having too much empathy may also be problematic and can be weaponized by bad actors.
  • We feel empathy only for humans and animals‚ not for objects, spaces, places, or our planet.

This talk will explore the edges of empathy and show how and why two additional emotive capacities should be cultivated: curiosity and care. A short case study for a project involving four NASA space scientists will demonstrate that when these two capacities are added to empathy, they can lead to more generative research and richer insights.

Break

This session is intended to be messy and will leave you with more questions than you came in with. We shall start off by asking ourselves “what are you pretending not to know?” This question inspired by African-American scholar and activist Toni Cade Bambara will guide us into the conversation. How do we understand our role as researchers? In what ways are we complicit in reproducing structural inequities and systemic harm?

This manifesto is centered around 3 “big” themes:

  • At what and whose cost do we engage in research?
  • What right do I have to engage in this research work?
  • What if I refused to participate?

This is an invitation to get intimate with ourselves and investigate the privilege(s) we hold as researchers and designers. Reflecting on the power imbalances that exist, how can we move toward a culturally thriving and sustainably empowering approach to emancipatory research that centers minoritized communities? Asking these questions and sitting with their complexities is urgent and necessary. Together, we strive for less extractive, decolonial, and anti-capitalist visions for research that are rooted in liberatory harm reduction, relationship building and community empowerment.

We will be presenting a simple framework or “toolkit” that can be used to align on the “minimum viable participants” for inclusive research when under pressure.

Intentional user research often gets classified into two categories. One aims to recruit users based on specific, constraint, or viability-driven criteria, e.g., who is most likely to be an early adopter, most likely to engage, or most likely to find value. This type of research is often seen as “fast,” “focused,” and “targeted,” but may overlook meaningful nuance. The other focuses on diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI), examining historical frameworks, and patterns of exclusion or injustice, and is viewed as “ethical,” “inclusive,” and “deep” but can also be cumbersome for teams under time or resource pressure.

However, fast and inclusive research are not mutually exclusive. Contrary to the popular belief that building DEI principles into user research slows us down or is just a “nice to have,” we propose instead, that it can accelerate insights by efficiently identifying the highest risk use cases and revealing beneficial design for all.

Break

During this talk, the audience will be guided to reflect upon the common innovation approaches we have used in recent years, and be inspired to step into the future of the innovation landscape.

A cultural approach will be introduced that focuses on the importance of combining local and global cultural perspectives to give broader and deeper understandings of the breadth and depth of human experience.

Adopting such an approach supports the design of products and services that are accessible to real people from diverse backgrounds and cultures.

What might a communal, speculative, Black-centred action research method look like? Reclaiming the discarded, the half-forgotten, the oppressed and marginalised is a key technique in AfroFuturism, whether for creating provocative fiction, exploring alternative technologies or developing radical means to thrive within white supremacist systems.

How might this perspective be incorporated into user research? What impact could it have on our artefacts and ways of working? This talk will take precedents from projects that range from introducing masquerade performativity to structure research activities, to early stage research into how service design might intersect with narrative to co-design local policy rooted in anti-racist practice. Join us as we explore both how AfroFuturism can be used as design research methodology and what it can offer user research on a broader scale.

Opening Remarks

Theme 2: Researchers as Organizational Changemakers

Insight has immense potential to galvanize, transform, and act as a force for change within a business. At Day Two, we’ll dig deeply into compelling stories and case studies from insight teams that have successfully elevated their voices and created meaningful change at an organizational level.

Insight has immense potential to galvanize, transform, and act as a force for change within a business. At Day Two, we’ll dig deeply into compelling stories and case studies from insight teams that have successfully elevated their voices and created meaningful change at an organizational level.

Data cannot interpret the world. Only humans can. Because of that, the next evolution of AI requires a more collaborative approach to building systems. And UX researchers are uniquely positioned to build the dream team responsible for managing the data collection required for more responsible AI.

Anthropology and sociology methodologies provide us the framework to interpret human behavior in a way that telemetry can’t. Qualitative research leads to more socially conscious computing decisions that will impact technology companies going forward.

Join this fireside conversation to discover…

  • The power of changing one tiny acronym from “Human-Computer Interaction” to “Human-Centered Innovation”
  • Expert recommendations for building more responsible technology
  • What it will take to build a fundamental practice around collecting and analyzing high-quality data
  • Practical steps you can take today to build ethical products in the future

This talk aims to unpack the notion of participation used in participatory design research, by proposing a framework through which different levels of participation can occur at different stages of the research process. Drawing examples of work in child welfare and foster care, this framework is ultimately an invitation to challenge the notion that participation is binary (i.e., either research is participatory or isn’t) or fixed (i.e., there is only one way participation can be done). Instead, participation is a negotiation that should take into account different factors (e.g., partners, resources, timeline), and could include a combination of different levels at different stages in any given research study.

Break

We’ll take a look at how UX propagates within organizations using a viral model ( a modified SIR model to be more precise ). We’ll look at such questions as:

  • Does it simply need more time?
  • Is the transmission rate/function the problem?
  • Is part of the organization effectively “inoculated” against UX?
  • and how, when and where to track progress

While getting UX into an organization isn’t as simple as solving a set of differential equations, we hope to show you that doing just that might be a useful step in getting insights into what might work and what might not.

Generative workshops are a critical generative component of any product development process. But in my 20+ years conducting product user research, I have seen more product harm come from so-called “workshops” or “design sprints” than good. In this tutorial, I will share more about my experience and what I’ve found are critical components of generative workshops — whether they last five hours or five days.

Contrary to popular belief, a design sprint is a highly structured and carefully designed series of exercises, not a brainstorm, design jam or free-for-all. The whole point is to drive a cross-functional team to the right outcome, and this requires a set of structured exercises which weave the thread of user needs, behaviors and attitudes throughout. This involves more than reviewing the research at the start and then moving on to create without that research in context.

A true design sprint takes us from user insights — even broad user insights — to user-evaluated concepts or designs. The generative phase of a product is deeply impactful, and design sprints are a fantastic tool for driving this needed impact. However, many are practicing brainstorms or design jams rather than true design sprints. One can make a mismatched concept extremely usable throughout the product development process, but that will not remedy the fact that it is not the right concept.
Researchers are ideal design sprint organizers and facilitators, but researchers are sometimes not even considered a critical component of the sprint. It’s important for knowledgeable researchers to drive design sprint impact.

Break

This is a case study of a strategic, enterprise-level IT project that was stalled due to organizational and cultural issues within company. By applying a few familiar research techniques and frameworks (and one unfamiliar modeling framework) towards understanding and solving organizational problems, the project team found its footing and was able to deliver a complex application that will position the company for success.

Product teams, including those I work with, struggle to overcome the grinding momentum of product delivery timelines to make room for adequate discovery, learning, and application through research. The game of product development becomes fiercer when it’s not the first time, but the fourth team assembled to tackle a complex product space. In well-trod territory, strong opinions may abound, and talking past each other and rehashing approaches is rampant. Challenges that face researchers as partners in product development include establishing a sense of shared team vision, separating facts from fiction, and moving the team past hang-ups to establish a research strategy and product direction. This case introduces the idea of “grinding momentum” and outlines a stakeholder engagement process known as a FOG session that helps all team members across functional expertise areas claim voice, hear others, and share in collective aha moments that define next steps. Using a mixed-methods approach, a process is outlined to frameshift the value of existing knowledge spanning many departments within an organization, bring together distinct expertise vocabularies and analyses, and propel product partners to identify true knowledge gaps.

In many organizations, design thinking dominates the research process with expansive research processes upfront during discovery. Pharmaceutical research gives us an alternative model that we can adapt based on a fail early and fail often (tech mantra) that should make discovery research an easier sell in any organization.

Takeaways:

  • An alternative model to discovery research with reduced upfront costs
  • Starting discovery research when buy-in is difficult
  • Maintaining discovery research when funds tighten up
  • An alternative model to measuring the value of research that takes into account savings

Opening Remarks

Theme 3: Transforming Our Craft

As a practice, insight is early in its journey to maturation. During Day Three, we’ll learn from research practitioners who are advancing our craft— in terms of methods and communication skills—and by pushing our work beyond conventional research and toward true insight.

As a practice, insight is early in its journey to maturation. During Day Three, we’ll learn from research practitioners who are advancing our craft— in terms of methods and communication skills—and by pushing our work beyond conventional research and toward true insight.

There is no shortage of data in our organizations, including that which comes from research studies, in today’s “data-driven” organizations. Due to sheer volume, attention is often focused on the myriad tools and methods that exist to gather and manage data, not on the importance of establishing context and coherence across data sets. This talk will explore how researchers are uniquely qualified to use a mixed-methods mindset to transform fragmented data collection into meaningful insights, examine the barriers that challenge this outcome, and learn from real world examples about how to get stakeholders to demand the same.

No topic within the insight industry has drawn as much impassioned debate and existential questioning about our future, value, and craft as that of research democratization. It raises fundamental questions about our practice and raison d’etre:

  • Should knowledge be owned or controlled?
  • Is research art, science, or craft?
  • How much research is too much?
  • Can anyone ever not be biased?
  • What does it even mean to be a researcher anymore?

Join us for a head-to-head debate between a passionate defender and a fervent detractor of democratization. They’ll engage in strong but respectful dialogue about the rights, wrongs and pitfalls of democratizing research.

Break

The inclusion of women in research has existed in narrow and siloed ways, if at all. Usually we include women when the project has an active gender focus (often in international development projects), or in an effort towards more inclusive research. But, we are not practising inclusion of women unless it is deeply embedded in both, the way we do research and what we do research about.

In this session, Mansi will share Women-Centric Design: a methodology and toolkit to equip designers and decision makers actively design with and for women. Drawing from her research with gender and feminist practitioners around the world, Mansi will introduce researchers to themes that are core to serving women as equal users of our design — and the role research can play in broadening our project scopes so we can shift away from overlooking women towards truly including them.

If you look across all disciplines, the one person whose achievements got to the heart of a behavior in nature was the 20th century mathematician Emmy Noether. While geniuses in physics received accolades for figuring out conservation laws in physics, she went an extra step, and this was a step most people didn’t even know was there. She figured out where conservation laws came from.
In this presentation, we are going to look at where Emmy would fit in high tech today.

Today, our world is filled with a plethora of templates, one day courses, agile and lean approaches, blogs on how to get “quick wins” and many other forms of content directly or indirectly trying to satisfy our appetite for speed in high tech. This is reflected in a desire to get to key takeaways or insights as quickly as possible.

Many times, these “lean” approaches can be incredibly useful, but not always. Sometimes in the rush to answer or iterate, something fundamental is missed. Insights that could have been discovered with just a little more up front thought and formalism of the problem space.

Asking one more “why” question.

And asking it like the kick*ss 20th century mathematician Emmy Noether.

We’re all familiar with the standard justification for secondary research – it’s a process to contextualise what’s already known to plan more focused (primary) research studies. Among research practitioners and non-researchers, secondary research is rarely thought of as a method in itself – and rather a supplementary phase of work before the real investigation begins.

In this talk, we hope to convince fellow researchers that secondary research can be more powerful and impactful than just offering a foundational starting point. With the right “research infrastructure‚” secondary research can allow us to step back, triangulate and evaluate not only a larger corpus of data but also consider data from different sources and teams to make better-informed decisions.

We share how we evolved our secondary research processes to do more efficient research and help our teams make more informed decisions.

There are many innovations in “research” that push the field forward. From inclusive research, democratizing research, fast research, futures research, and VR/AR research to mixed methods, agile research, participatory research, behavioral research, AI research, systems research, and trauma-responsive research; the future of research seems to be improving. However, the vast majority of innovations in “research” work at the outer surface of “research,” leaving the Anglocentric core of “research,” along with its assumptions and views, fundamentally untouched.

Interestingly, only a tiny percentage of research is done by people we call researchers. The vast majority of research is done by people around the world in the service of their hyperlocal being and doing, their aspirations, livelihoods, survival, visions, thriving, and problem-solving.

With their inspiration, what happens when we break away from this UNIverse, this one-world world with only one center, one globalizing Westernized understanding and control of research and knowledge?

What happens when we enter a world of many centers and many understandings of knowledge and research that come from various ways of being in the world? What happens when we acknowledge and enter the pluralistic multiverse – the pluriverse? Let us explore what research in the pluriverse looks like and whether you are ready to embark on a pluriversal journey. It only requires a yes.