Research encompasses data from many sources, which can be difficult to manage across multiple tools and data points. Maintaining this amount of data over any length of time often results in missing information, lost links, and wasted efforts.
One of the best ways to avoid these pitfalls is to maintain a research repository: a collection of all data points, creating an accumulation of insights that paint a full picture. It’s also a space to analyze this information and provide training material for future researchers, or to share with teams across the business - accelerating your democratization efforts.
Here, we will explore further what a user research repository is, how it helps solve common research problems and share some useful tips on how to get started.
Defining a User Research Repository
A repository can be many things to many people, so let's start with some clear definitions:
A collection of data points
When thinking about researchers, many people would assume that the entire discipline consists of interviewing users and conducting usability tests.
While these are incredibly important pieces of the puzzle, research is now a broader umbrella than ever before - we need a place for other disciplines to contribute their types of data, like marketing research or analytics.
A user research repository is a central source of truth of data relating to users.
Here, research is stored, organized, and analyzed to bring out insights across multiple data sources and showcase the full story of users. It’s a space that opens up collaboration across disciplines to share their own research, analysis, and expertise to contribute to the big picture of research questions.
A single source of truth
Before we go any further, it’s worth remembering that tools alone cannot solve all your issues.
Repository tools like our own EnjoyHQ are great places to store and analyze data but the real power of a repository lies in how you use those tools. Links should be added to places where data cannot be directly input into the repository.
Collaboration tools like Miro or Figjam may initially be more suitable when encouraging people to interact with research data, take notes and collaborate on drawing out insights.
So, data collected in workshops is still valuable, but may not follow your typical research data format which can be tagged or analyzed. However, a record of these efforts still needs to be recorded and organized for future reference (and also to help you keep a close eye on where user data has been used for legal reasons).
A space for analysis
Analysis can be a long process, and can often be a tedious one too, pouring through hours of transcripts and pulling out insights across multiple people.
Tools designed as repositories are designed to support us in our day-to-day analysis as well. Some features allow us to go through videos and transcripts, highlighting what’s important, and then show you an accumulation of those highlights to let you build out overall themes quickly.
This will save a lot of time and reduce bias, showing you what was actually mentioned the most - rather than relying on what we think was mentioned the most.
An accumulation of insights
In addition to revealing themes during analysis, a repository will let you build a bigger picture, accumulating those themes over time.
This allows research to live longer. Each round of research can contribute to previous reports, further validating or disproving hypotheses. Under the same tag or theme, we see all mentions from our very first participant to the very last.
A shared resource
The more your repository opens up as a single source of truth, the more it becomes the space to come to for research and answers.
For example, a product owner can come here to find answers in market research, analytics, user interviews and usability testing results. Developers can come to see which technical issues are being mentioned in tagged product feedback or in interviews. Anyone doing presentations to stakeholders (or even knowledge-sharing sessions) can find their own data to demonstrate the user-centricity behind decisions made and work prioritized.
When should you consider a research repository?
The more you demonstrate the value of research, the more it becomes valued and considered by the company.
People will naturally start to see you, the researchers, as the source of research. This means they’re asking you for quotes, data, reports, etc.
It’s an amazing feeling when people come to you because they are valuing research, but this adds to your workload and takes you away from your day-to-day. A repository not only allows you to quickly retrieve what you need but allows others to learn where to find research for themselves.
Research repositories also shine in businesses with more than one research team. Often companies have multiple products where design teams are somewhat siloed, each focusing on the company goals and their product goals. A repository reduces duplicated efforts by offering a space where teams can share company-wide insights.
The key advantages of a research repository
1: Extend the lifespan of your research
A research repository brings your research to life and extends its expiration date (regulations permitting of course). Highlights are born from each and every data source. Suddenly, insight is born from multiple sources and paints a truer picture of your users and business. All the research is in the same place so it’s difficult for it to be forgotten. These insights live for a lot longer because you continuously add and takeaway insights as necessary with each round of research.
Let’s say, for example, you are exploring a broad question like “why do people take photographs?”.
For a photography company, this question underpins almost every decision. So, a one-time round of explorative research with a final report doesn’t make sense. But a repository provides features where this insight grows with each round of research by continuously adding to the stories. It’s easy to see which insights have been modified and whether points raised in previous months or years are still being raised.
2: Provide consistent visualization of research
Another benefit of a repository is the ability to build a visual mental model of our data which is both structured and organized. When we have that picture of where things are, we are more efficient in actions like retrieving time-sensitive insights.
We can pull out answers to questions, often within minutes, whether it’s a report, a collection of reports, or a summary of a theme automatically collated under a tag.
Long gone is the assumption that asking for research will result in waiting for months before seeing any answers.
3: Allows faster, more accessible to analytics
Not only will you see research but also the metadata of your repository; how many people have been interviewed, notes created, text snippets highlighted, and so on.
This is an amazing way for us as researchers to discuss the impact we’re having on the business as a team and individually in meetings like appraisals or end-of-year showcases. We can demonstrate the work undertaken and show the trail of user-centricity that has led to or influenced key business decisions.
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