Research Ops

With the user research community of practice maturing in the UK, research leaders are looking for ways to support researchers and enable them to work more effectively. Many are investing in a new layer called ‘Research Ops’. In this workshop, Emma Boulton explained what Research Ops is and how you can get started in your own organisation.

Last March, Kate Towsey started a ResearchOps Slack channel. There are now over 2,000 members, with a ‘cheese board’ of people who help administer the community and help share the output. Emma is part of this board and is representing the ResearchOps Slack channel community today.

ResearchOps is the mechanism and strategies that set user research in motion and provides the roles, tools and processes needed to support researchers in scaling the craft.

ResearchOps people help researchers do their best work. User research is increasingly being accepted as an essential part of the design process. Consequently, the role of the researcher has grown, but there is often very little support infrastructure to support them.

The ResearchOps community conducted a survey and subsequently developed the Eight Pillars of User Research that summarise what researchers do:

  • Environment
  • Scope
  • Recruitment and admin
  • Data and knowledge management
  • People
  • Organisational context
  • Governance
  • Tools and infrastructure

It’s quite a lot, and this can mean our focus is diluted.

Emma argued that thinking about research ops can help. Some of the tasks that sit under each of these eight pillars can become the responsibility of a dedicated research ops specialist, whilst some can remain with the researchers.  If you don’t have a research ops person or team, you can think about how you might organise the research ops tasks within your team.

Thinking about some of these tasks as research ops allows you to label them, measure how long you spend on them, and communicate what you are doing so you can apply for extra resource. 

Emma used a research maturity model map to lead a game of bingo. Participants circled where they felt their organisation sits on this maturity model, assessing if their organisation is a laggard, early maturity, progressing or mature in categories including: scope, purpose, staffing, audience and governance.

Next, Emma took us through some ways that we can benefit from thinking about research ops.

A really simple way to get started with research is to use guidelines and templates. Standardising research guides and interview templates is a really good way to make sure that everyone is using the same, robust techniques.

She also identified a number of specific tasks that could be passed to a dedicated research ops person, including budget management, software licence management and governance activities.

In her next activity, Emma used the ResearchOps framework and the Liberating Structures 1-2-4-All technique to address two questions:

  1. What research operational challenges have you experienced?
  2. Where do you see opportunities to improve operations in your organisation?

Individually, participants silently generated ideas, and put one idea per post-it note. They then shared these in pairs/small groups before coming together on each table to share their insights.

Some of operational challenges participants highlighted include:

  • Lack of a centralised solution for insights across the business
  • Short term focus, resulting in knowledge getting lost between projects
  • Building trust and educating people about the value of research
  • Misconceptions of what research is leading to using the wrong tool

Some of the opportunities participants highlighted include:

  • Improved knowledge management using a documentation strategy that fits within the documentation strategy used by the rest of the business
  • Not framing an activity as research

Emma concluded by sharing some links to get started and encouraged participants to apply to join the ResearchOps Slack channel.

About Emma

Emma is a Design Research consultant, writer and speaker with close to two decades experience of leading projects and teams across design, user and market research both client-side and agency side. She got her research chops at the BBC, before moving to UX Research when she co-founded Mark Boulton Design, a boutique design studio. Prior to becoming a consultant, she was the Research Director at Monotype after the acquisition of MBD in 2014.

Emma is a familiar voice in the UX community, but she also amplified the voices of others when she ran Five Simple Steps, a UX publishing business. More recently she has become an admin, organiser and spokesperson for the burgeoning Research Ops community.