Come work with us!
What to bring to a research visit?
Imagine you have been asked to fly to another country to understand - and report on - the challenges factory workers face when incorporating meals into their workdays at the manufacturing plant. What would you pack for this trip? Think for a little while.
When asked that question, I wouldn't be surprised if most people said they would inquire about the length of stay, check the weather forecast, consider dress codes, or all of the above. While those aspects can help you plan for such trip - like any other - a research trip requires planning beyond the essentials.
Our job as qualitative researchers is as much about spending time with our users as it is to meticulously document what we learn about them. The challenge is: there is a lot that can happen during a single day on site, and trying capturing every important element of such day without some help can be overwhelming, to say the least.
The good news is that we can always rely on some smart tools and best practices to help us make sure we don’t come back with the bitter feeling of leaving data on the table. Here is a list of things to consider when planning a research trip.
Research Protocol –
A research protocol or guide is probably one of the most important things to bring with you. It is an outline of the research you are conducting. It should outline the research questions you are trying to answer, a plan detailing your research approach, as well as a detailed guide of your activities. This will help you stay on track and conduct a thorough and reliable study.
Notebook and Pens –
Obviously, you need something to write or take notes with. In some cases, this can be done on a laptop, but often pen and paper works better when you’re onsite. For research methods like shadowing or observations, you may not always have a place to put down a computer. In other cases you may need to walk while taking notes. In addition, for interviews it may be beneficial to take notes on paper since a laptop can be a physical barrier between you and the participant you are trying to have a conversation with.
Recording Devices –
If you can get permission from participants to record interviews, shadowing sessions, or observations, don’t hesitate to do so. Voice recordings, videos, and photographs can be very helpful during the analysis stages. Not only do they serve as a backup in case you missed something in your notes, but they can also be used to pull compelling quotes or video clips for your presentation.
Oh, make sure to bring extra sets of batteries and chargers.
As you plan for your research trip, you should have a schedule of what you expect to happen on each day, especially if you have a busy interview schedule ahead of you. Your schedule should leave enough time for you to conduct your research. This means building in buffer time for interview sessions, time between sessions, and extra slots in case of cancelations or changes. I also like to emphasize that, depending on your research approach and methods, it is impossible to predict everything that can happen during your trip. Therefore, make sure to have backup plans.
Access Cards –
For most research projects, you need to get permission before going on site. As part of this process, it is useful to ask for a badge or access card to make sure your visit runs smoothly. While these badges grant you access to any areas you may need to visit, they also add a layer credibility to your presence. That's because often times employees will not know who you are or why you are there, and having a badge will let them know that your visit has been approved. This becomes even more important on sites with heightened security concerns, such as office buildings and hospitals.
Appropriate Accessories and Clothes –
Some methods, like shadowing, may require you to spend a lot of time walking around. In some occasions you may also find yourself in areas that require special equipment to prevent injuries - think non-slip shoes in the kitchen. So do your research before you go, and make sure your clothing is both comfortable and appropriate.
Recruit participants beforehand –
This one’s a given, but most user research can’t be done without... hmm... users (in research terms, participants). It is very helpful to identify and recruit participants before you show up on site, so you know you are talking to a diverse group of users, in the time you have scheduled.
Bring someone to help –
For most research methods, it is extremely helpful to go on site as a team of two, or more depending on circumstances. This way, one researcher can take on the role of facilitator while the other can help by taking notes, keeping the team on schedule, and serving as a sounding board, to mention a few. This extra help means that the facilitator can focus on the actions and conversations with the user, ensuring the team is leveraging every opportunity to learn. Additionally, it can really help improve your work and relieve the stress when things don’t go as planned.
Have contacts on site –
Having someone on site helping you out is one of the things that helps research go smoothly. This is ideally someone you can be in contact with from the start of the project until the end. This contact can help you recruit participants, hook you up with materials, find a room for the team, introduce you to members of the staff, or just answer your questions.
Plan for your mental and physical health –
Along with the schedule comes a plan to help the research team maintain their mental and physical health while conducting the research. Remember, research trips can take several days - or weeks - and days can be really long. This means you need to fit in breaks, eat well, stay hydrated, and active! It is easy to get carried away with the research or try to make use of as much time as you can on site, but this can lead to burn-out, especially in longer projects. If you do not take care of yourself, the quality of the research will suffer.
Written by: Mahsa Karimi, Sanaz Hafezim and William Georg - The UXR Team
The UXR Team ,