Posted by Joseph Friedman on Feb 9, 2023

You’re a UX Researcher. It’s a Tuesday morning and you have some agile ceremony to go to. Your product owner has changed hands a few times in the three years you’ve been in research at this organization, and they bring up a request for research that they’re interested in doing.

You pause because the request sounds slightly familiar. Didn’t you do this before? Don’t you have some personas that match this discovery need…they might be outdated, but couldn’t this help with steering? Oh, no, wait, maybe that was your peer in the Insights & Analytics department that ran this UX study last year?

This happens a lot on UX teams. This design, this test, this ask, this vibe, these trends are sometimes cyclical. How do we, as a team, help to steer our product towards committing to the new research that matters, especially when there’s existing research that might support some of the questions we have? How might we approach existing research from other departments, other teams, and other products with a lens of how it might impact our own peoples’ needs? Or, even deeper still, how might we move beyond what is this project and move into the realm of what is this product, or even who is this person?

Without getting too existential, this is what’s known as UX Ops work and there is a clearly identified gap to pair with an opportunity: a Research Repository. One place - searchable, taggable, and trackable - across your entire organization that houses whatever research you’ve accomplished. Survey work from Marketing? Voice of the Customer from Sales wins and losses? Usability testing on the new component update? All of that beautiful customer journey vision work you presented to your SVP last Q2? It’s all there.

Whether you’re new to the idea of a research repository, or you’re just coming in to nod aggressively in this UX-positive echo-chamber, here are some things to keep in mind to make sure your research repository sees success.

6 Considerations for Building Your Research Repository

Always work towards your goal of who this repository is for

Some people set up a repository for researchers themselves. Or, they extend it to the entire UX team, allowing UX designers the freedom to easily see previous insights or have gut-checks on some of their work without having to engage in a study. Others set up repositories for their entire company. Product people, SVPs, customer success, sales, you name it can all access whatever is uploaded and pull from the knowledge you’ve built. Whomever you build it for, make sure you identify this and set up clear objectives to drive the need and use.

Without a purpose, the repository becomes a chore - people don’t visit it, and contributors half-heartedly go through the motions without seeing any real benefit. Understanding your audience, how you want to give others access, and how they might glean insights from existing work or even craft their own cross-research insights, optimizes usefulness, navigation, and storage.

Set yourself up for future flexibility

When getting started with what a research repository could be, the first step is to identify how your research could be sorted. Ask yourself: what are your taxonomies, tags, or filters, and how can you ensure that they’re not set in stone?

Some teams start simply, knowing they’re open to grow as they need it - Title of work, Department/Team, Researcher Name, Some relevant tags, and the deliverables themselves (artifacts from prep, fielding, and analysis). Other teams use it as an excuse to introduce some needed consistency in the process. This is an opportunity to standardize how everyone is storing research - if there are user interviews involved, for example, make sure to leave a field for 2-3 relevant video clips. Or, if a project is completed, each entry might require a very brief summary of insights for others to skim.

Once things start to be entered into the system, you have the ability to grow and change. Don’t worry about nailing all of it down immediately. The power of your repository is in its flexibility. As you continue to add research and tag information, you’ll find additional ways to sort, filter, or even add new connections and taxonomies that you may have not had before.

Consider permissions and data management

Once you have your audience and basic structure in mind, consider permissions and data management. As you continue to share and socialize this work, there’s an additional opportunity to show off the rigor and craft of your organization’s research ethics.

Most teams already obfuscate PII, but sometimes that isn’t enough. How are you ensuring that each piece of research uploading also stays in line with any GDPR requirements, and that you can easily  remove any specific participant data based on request? Similarly, what other professional privacy ethics does your team want to establish and champion through this kind of solution?

In addition to participant privacy, it’s also important to think through product privacy. Not all organizations are comfortable with every department sharing the intricacies of sometimes sensitive or confidential product research. Giving a template or guidebook to other teams so that they can contribute pieces of their research, even if they can’t be specific about the product or project, is a huge help in empowering your repository.

Build a living and evolving product

If you have a repository currently set up, consider the ways in which your research repository needs to be organic and living, alive and active, and connected to other teams, departments, or even across years of previous research. A successful repository requires maintenance. Links will break, research will need to be scrubbed retroactively, folks will move on to other roles, new people and teams will need to be engaged, and even you might eventually take on a different opportunity.

Some organizations have a curator - this doesn’t need to be one person’s entire role, nor does it even need to be a role that just one person takes on. Some organizations even use this need to establish a cross-department committee of people interested in the care of an organizational repository.

Socialize with pride

So you’ve got a curator or a small committee. Along with being alive, a successful repository also requires discoverability. How are you consistently reaching out to people? Who might be interested in this work, but needs to be kept engaged? How are you playing the role of librarian if someone reaches out with a request?

Jennifer Bohmbach, a UX Researcher here at AnswerLab who chatted with me about repositories, said it best: “There will always be different pockets of things going on that people can’t see, and so how do you make sure there’s a way that people can go in and do research on the research? How can people inform themselves ahead of time of what’s been found instead of going out and repeating research?” The more excited you are to socialize research insights and the work you’re doing to connect the dots or to curate information, the more likely others will be to share in the benefits of your work.

Finally, just simply start simple

A research repository can add value no matter what stage of maturity your UX Ops practice is in. Not everyone is able to have an internal team build a custom product, and that’s OK. Shopping around for some tool might be useful down the road, but many teams need to show the value to get buy-in first. The best way to garner support for a transparent storage solution is to start storing your team’s work in a transparent way - and building the networks and partnerships that can encourage other teams to do the same.

Case Study: Utilizing an Existing Tool to Get Started

One of our clients, a large and established organization, identified the need for a research repository after running successful UX research across a few departments both internally and with the help of AnswerLab’s services. Because of the costs and time associated with recruiting and logistics, leaders wanted a better way to track and glean information from work they’d already done.

We were able to set up something simple for them using Confluence, an internal tool they were already using for other use cases. The main page of the repository was just a table. Searchable? Sure, as long as you knew how to CTRL+F. Taggable? Absolutely, via some text in a column. Uploadable? Sometimes, but you can always provide a link if a file is too large. What was most helpful, in this first iteration, is that it was one place that easily housed everything they might want to reference in the future.

Case Study: Building a Repository from Scratch

Another client of ours had the initiative and resources to develop their own custom repository. For this client, they accomplish so much research across so many different products and teams, that sometimes it was difficult to see how interconnected insights could be. While research on different teams had different overall objectives, there were common themes and consistent insights that could be gleaned no matter which team took on the work. Using other teams’ findings as a starting point, broad research questions could be guided and vague research questions could be made more specific before digging into new work.

This solution certainly didn’t house everything, but it did allow for the opportunity to standardize and socialize all types of work done. And, more importantly, it was open to the entire company to search. Where some teams were more secretive in their work and company shared drives were less accessible, in this tool, they could easily redact any confidential information and still contribute. Additionally, when getting ready to network with a UXR, some colleagues appreciated being able to reference the repository and simply look up the projects that someone’s led.

For me, whenever I consider any UX ops work, it comes out of a more existential need. A need to reflect, a need to organize, a need to operationalize - these are all efforts to reach more mature conclusions, develop a more consistent practice, and deliver a more human experience at every stage. Especially internally.

AnswerLab’s UX research experts can help you plan and execute UX research to populate an existing or future UX repository. We also offer consulting and retainer services in case you need that extra push to dig deeper, develop strategy, or build and implement a research pipeline. Get in touch with a Strategist today to start the conversation.

Written by

Joseph Friedman

Joseph Friedman is a Research Manager at AnswerLab where he both creates experiences people love and empowers his team to do the same. He has over a decade of conversance in UX across research, design, product, and the ops strategies that makes them all move together.

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