Enable others to conduct your research
How enabling others to conduct your study helps you train your research muscle and increase your superpowers as a researcher.
At a certain point in your career as researcher, you will be faced with a new challenge: someone else will need to conduct your study for you.
This might be due to the fact that your stakeholders are passionate and would like to talk to the users themselves, the interviews are in a language that you do not speak, or quite simply, you just do not have the time to conduct all the required research all by yourself.
One way or the other, this is the time where you have to rethink the way you have planned and set up your research until now.
No matter if you are a perfectionist and prepare your studies to the tiniest details, or whether you have a rather intuitive research approach, planning only the rough framework and adapting to the situation as you go — with someone else conducting the research for you, a new factor enters the equation.
Here are five tips on how to cope with this challenge:
- NUMBER ONE: Clarify business and research objectives
- NUMBER TWO: Write a top-notch interview guideline
- NUMBER THREE: Brief your researchers in-depth
- NUMBER FOUR: Coach research skills (if necessary)
- NUMBER FIVE: Prepare an analysis template
Losing your superpower helps you become a better researcher
I have been working in qualitative market research for over a decade and was actually specialized on this specific challenge: international research.
You plan and set up the research centrally (Germany in my case) and then have local researchers all over the world conduct the research for you, always crossing your fingers that everything goes well.
Phew, this sounds scary at first, since you are giving up on the essential superpower of a (qualitative) researcher: spontaneity (aka flexibility).
If you do not conduct the research yourself, you cannot spontaneously adapt your interview guideline because you discovered a mind-blowing new aspect which might be beneficial for your research objective. You are equally inflexible when it turns out the stimulus material should be presented differently.
This sounds scary, however, handing research over to someone else, also trains your research muscles:
- Things you normally have stored in the back of your head, only accessible to you, need to be spelled out
- You have to do very thorough groundwork upfront to deliver a full picture to your ‘commissioned’ researcher
- There is no room for being sloppy about preparation, documents, stimulus material, prototype
- Actually, already before the research starts, you need to be quite specific at what kind of results you are opting at.
The goal behind all these jobs to be done: you need to enable. You need to deliver everything your ‘commissioned’ researchers need to conduct successful research.
All of this will also help you become a better researcher! You will need to think through the research process from the very end to the beginning. You will need to be very exact. And actually, you will learn which detail you did not take care of in the planning might crush the research since you cannot react flexibly. Believe me or not, this will improve your future research skills!
Let us get started on what to look out for, when you hand over your research to someone else.
NUMBER ONE: Clarify business and research objectives
Most important when enabling someone else to conduct your research — help them understand the context! With that, I do not mean starting from the creation of earth. But think thoroughly which information is needed to convey the full picture so that your researchers can act professionally and flexible.
As mentioned, the magic of qualitative research unfolds when researchers follow up to what they hear. This spontaneity is only possible if you know the background of the study.
In the interview, you need to decide on the spot whether you dig deeper into a specific topic because it might be the one golden nugget of insight you were looking for. Or whether you stop the conversation about that topic, since you know that it will not be beneficial for your research objectives.
To enable another researcher make sure you spell out the objectives of your study:
- What happened before? Where to contextualize the research — is it the start of a process, an evaluative piece in-between, the wrap-up of a longer series of research initiatives?
- Why is this research conducted? To take which decisions? What are the higher level questions?
- What will be done with the results afterwards? Who will work with or implement the results?
After giving this context information, be clear about the research objectives of the study.
To give you an example, in a study we might want to…
- … understand how the target group defines life-long learning
- … evaluate which approaches & resources are currently used
- … understand how people choose a specific online learning platform
Spelling it out like this gives your researchers a North Star to aim for, not only step by step instructions or questions on how to get there your way.
To give you an example of what may happen without such context: I was once asked to conduct a study for an agency outside Germany. They needed me as their local facilitator as none in their team spoke German. I received an interview guideline — nine full pages in word for a 75 minutes interview.
Do the math. No way I could have asked all the questions that were written there. Let alone believing I could address their crazy amount of different topics within the 75 minutes.
The missing scope in the guideline was the one thing that left me helpless, the other one was the lack of explanation on the business & research objectives behind it. Despite repeated requests, the agency did not want to share the business & research objectives with me.
So I had no choice but to ask one question after the other without being able to follow up. I did not know where. Needless to say, the results were very superficial — the opposite of what you want to achieve with an in-depth method.
NUMBER TWO: Write a top-notch interview guideline
Writing an interview guideline for yourself, primarily serves two purposes: structure your thoughts as well as the interview process and have a cheat sheet in case you forget something during the course of the interview. (Okay, admitted, there is a third essential purpose: align with your stakeholders.)
Writing a good guideline for someone else is about finding the sweet spot between too little and too much detail (remember my 9 pages example?). You neither want to give too little structure so that interviews by different researchers are not comparable in the end. Nor do you want to be so detailed that no one would be able to work with that opus.
- What is needed?
- What is redundant?
- What is OK to be done differently, too? If your interview guide also contains the WHY of a section, a conversational interview does not need to stick to the script word for word and you can save space on the HOW.
And it is always a good idea to test your interview guideline. Run a short pre-test session where someone conducts an interview based on your guideline. Or run the first round of interviews as a pilot with some extra participants and have the other markets work with your iterated version.
NUMBER THREE: Brief your researchers in-depth
Spelled out business & research objectives, wrote a top-notch interview guide? Now it is time to talk. Nothing can replace a good conversation.
Share your interview guideline with your researchers and schedule a meeting. I recommend at least one hour including the following topics:
- Business & research objectives
- Interview guideline (A guided walk through. It always helps, if you point out the absolute dealmaker questions & topics. In case your researchers run out of time, they know which questions are not to skip in any case)
- Stimulus material (Explain the prototype / concept or whatever you will test)
- How to orchestrate technical set-up
Needless to say, plan enough time for questions. By the time your researcher team leaves the (virtual) room, all ambiguities should be clarified.
You feel the personal conversation can be skipped because you made a five-star preparation? Whew, let me tell you this story:
In my early years as a researcher, I was commissioned to conduct a study. The Lead researcher was not available to clarify my open questions. They felt everything, and especially the interview guideline, was crystal clear. But it was not clear to me.
There were some questions included which were quite ambiguous or rather unclear what they were opting at. As a, back then, inexperienced junior researcher, I trusted the judgement of the way more senior lead researcher.
Funny enough, in all of the six interviews, when I asked these questions, my conversation partner always looked at me very puzzled. Asking me to clarify what I meant. Well, I was not able to elaborate. As I did not know myself.
NUMBER FOUR: Coach research skills (if necessary)
Not everyone who takes over research might be trained researchers. If they aren’t — for example if stakeholders want to conduct research themselves — schedule some extra time to share the basics of good research for them.
Of course, you cannot turn a novice into an expert in a day. So focus on the most important tips for them:
- Focus on the interview partner feeling comfortable in the situation
- Ask open instead of leading questions
- Follow up on topics (and don’t just read out one question after the other)
- Do not guide or bias with your questions or feedback to their response
- Follow the 80/20 rule (80% talking time for your conversation partner / maximum 20% talking time for the research facilitator).
Of course, there is way more to share on how to conduct great research. However, depending on the time you have for this training — do not overwhelm your research star in training on their first day.
NUMBER FIVE: Prepare an analysis template
Whenever others conduct research for me, I provide an analysis template and deliver it at the same time as the interview guideline.
Wait, what? You spell out the results before the research even starts?
No, an analysis template is the skeleton which will be later filled with the results. I do not share results, but by sketching out what I want to learn about and in which depth, my researchers can better conduct their interviews.
If your researchers know that an entire chapter in the final report will be for examples about ‘Motivations to life-long learnings’ including spontaneous thoughts, definition, individual approaches, likes and dislikes, they will make sure to have enough input for these sections.
And on the contrary, if your researchers know that ‘motivations to life-long learnings’ will just be one chart in the final presentation which I want to fill with spontaneous, catchy quotes, they will look for these quotes but won’t waste too much time in following up on every detail during the interview.
You see the point here? By giving a grid or framework to your researchers upfront, you avoid bad surprises in the end. E.g., if I know that based on my research, the lead researcher wants to build personas with the same areas covered in every persona, I make sure that I ask the required specifics in each interview.
Writing an analysis template upfront is also quite good gymnastics for your brain. It forces you to be clear about every single step of your research:
- Why you do the research
- What decisions are to be taken
- And which white gaps are to be filled via the research.
You prepared everything? You shared all the resources? You enabled your researchers? Congratulations. I am sure the handing over of your study will be a success!
One last thing: decide upfront whether you want your enabled researchers to provide you with their analysis (based on your template), whether you want to work with the protocols of the research or whether it makes most sense to have a shared debrief session.
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Nina is a qualitative researcher with over 15 yrs. of experience. She has a track record of working on the key accounts of some of the largest FMCG players worldwide. In recent years she stepped into UX research, built UXR departments for start-ups and coaches UXR beginners. Design Thinking is part of her toolbox as well.