Let’s get the questions out in the open

A basic expectations from UX researchers is that once they are equipped with the research questions, they talk to a certain number of consumers/ participants / users, analyze the qualitative and quantitative data, and then deliver the answers. Analyzing the data is a somewhat subjective, interpretative activity: there are no objective truths. Instead, as a researcher, you develop an understanding of your users’ needs, pain and delight points, attitudes and desires. You often discover something valuable that nobody has explicitly said. Like a prospector, you find the gold nuggets hidden behind the explicit verbiage. There are several frameworks for this process (grounded theory, thematically analysis, etc.) and it is understood to be the bread and butter of our work.

Less recognized is the process of defining the relevant research questions. This is where you need to look at your internal stakeholders (PMs, Designers, Content strategists, etc.) as your first group of users. You need to put in the same gold nugget prospecting and mining work as you will with your external users. In other words, you need to be as attentive to your stakeholders’ words as you are with your external users, and find the gold nugget questions behind the verbiage.

Erika Hall’s approach provides a good framework for that.

  1. Invite your stakeholders to brainstorm questions on a regular basis. Instead of the usual idea dump, participants are invited to contribute questions that stem from either “a lack of clarity or a wellspring of curiosity”.

2. Then, as a group, discuss which questions are high priority versus less risky to let them go unanswered, and which questions are the stakeholders the most in the dark about. This enables the team members to have a shared understanding and also to prioritize research.

3. Rinse and repeat. When done on a regular basis, team members get used to the idea that they are not expected to have all the answers. It is OK to not know something and have the humility and curiosity to seek answers.

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