The need for efficient and organised ways to store, access, and share research findings has been at the top of Lead User Researcher’s lists for years, particularly when working within established organisations and those that have a revolving door on delivery staff (welcome to contracting in 2023).

Being able to understand what has been tried in the past, what the corporate knowledge is on a particular problem area or need helps reduce the amount of rework that is done needlessly, and to give confidence that where you are today was founded on rational logic. With many hands touching a product in it’s lifetime how do you retain the historic knowledge and document the steps taking to make decisions today?

Enter Research Repositories – platforms designed to serve as centralised hubs for housing research data, insights, and reports. While these repositories have gained popularity and are often lauded for their potential, I too often see systems being created and adopted that quickly become disorganised, and lack guidance to enable key people to self-serve information to inform decisions.

The Intended Purpose of Research Repositories

Research Repositories are envisioned as digital spaces where user research data, reports, findings, and insights can be stored, organised, and be accessed easily.

  • Centralised Knowledge Management: Research Repositories aim to provide a central location where researchers can upload and store their raw data, analysis, synthesis and findings, making it easier for teams to access and leverage accumulated knowledge.
  • Collaboration and Sharing: These platforms intend to facilitate collaboration by allowing researchers to share their work with colleagues across different teams, projects, and departments.
  • Transparency and Accountability: Research Repositories are meant to foster transparency by offering a platform where research processes, methodologies, and outcomes can be reviewed and audited across the organisation.

What was the problem again?

While the promises of Research Repositories are appealing, it’s important to acknowledge the challenges they often face. It’s great to be moving away from often disorganised assets across OneDrive, Sharepoint and Google Drive for example, but only if it adds value to the experience.

Collecting data increases the reporting burden of overstretched officials, requires effort to derive meaningful insights and diverts resources from other activities. But building this supply of better development data could be a catalytic investment to support decision-making and strengthen accountability.

Quote from Samantha Custer, AidData Avoiding Data Graveyards

  1. Usability: Not all Research Repositories are user-friendly, which can discourage researchers from using them effectively. An ideal repository should be intuitive, requiring minimal training for adoption.
  2. Search and Retrieval: Without robust search and retrieval functionalities, repositories can become data graveyards, making it difficult to find and reuse valuable research insights.
  3. Data Security: In the public sector, sensitive data security is paramount. Research Repositories must ensure that data is stored and shared in compliance with data protection regulations.
  4. Integration: Repositories should seamlessly integrate with existing tools and workflows to avoid adding extra layers of complexity.

What Research Repositories Don’t Provide

As a User Experience Researcher, I’ve encountered several limitations with Research Repositories:

  • Contextual Insights: Research Repositories often lack the context that surrounds research findings. They don’t capture the discussions, debates, and nuances that shape the research journey.
  • Narrative Understanding: Repositories don’t convey the human stories behind the data. They fail to capture the user personas, pain points, and emotional experiences that contribute to richer insights.
  • Real-time Collaboration: While repositories offer sharing capabilities, they often lack real-time collaboration features. Collaborative note-taking during user testing or brainstorming sessions requires more dynamic tools.

The alternatives to Big Data Research Repositories

A great inspiration for how to get the basics nailed and to set up how you’re going to organise your research data is Managing and Sharing Research Data co-authored by Louise Corti, Veerle Van den Eynden, Libby Bishop and Matthew Woollard.

It may appear at first glance that because this is derived from academic practices that it doesn’t apply to businesses, but that would be a wrong assumption to make.

You can use readily available tools and techniques to start organising and sharing your research data and insights today.

1. Collaborative Note-Taking Tools

Platforms: Google Docs, Microsoft OneNote

Collaborative note-taking tools like Google Docs and Microsoft OneNote offer real-time collaboration features that allow multiple researchers to contribute and edit notes simultaneously during research sessions. This real-time capability ensures that insights, observations, and discussions are captured immediately as they unfold. Researchers can create dedicated documents for each research session or project, providing a dynamic and evolving record of findings. These tools offer version history, so researchers can track changes and see the evolution of notes over time.

Benefits of collaborative note-taking tools

  • Real-time Collaboration: Multiple researchers can collaborate simultaneously, capturing insights in the moment.
  • Dynamic Updates: Notes can be updated during sessions, ensuring that insights are captured accurately and comprehensively.
  • Version Control: Version history helps maintain a record of changes and ensures accountability.

2. UX Research Platforms

Platforms: UserZoom, Dovetail, Optimal Workshop

UX research platforms like UserZoom and Dovetail are designed to address the specific needs of UX researchers. They offer features for capturing research data, coding and analysing insights, and creating interactive reports. These platforms allow researchers to import data from various sources, including surveys, interviews, and usability tests. Researchers can code and categorise insights, facilitating easy retrieval and analysis. Interactive reports can be created, which include visualisations and annotations, providing a comprehensive overview of research findings with context.

Benefits of UX Research platforms

  • Data Aggregation: Import and centralise research data from various sources for holistic analysis.
  • Coding and categorisation: Code insights for efficient retrieval and analysis.
  • Interactive Reporting: Create visual reports that provide context and insight through annotations and visualisations.

3. Design Thinking Workshops

Design thinking workshops are collaborative sessions where cross-functional teams come together to empathise, define, ideate, prototype, and test solutions. These workshops include activities such as user persona creation, empathy mapping, customer journey mapping, and ideation sessions. Through these exercises, participants gain a deeper understanding of user needs, pain points, and emotions. This narrative-driven approach ensures that research findings are humanised and contextualised, leading to more empathetic and user-centred solutions.

Benefits of design thinking workshops

  • Human-Centred Insights: Design thinking workshops focus on understanding user needs and emotions, adding a layer of depth to research insights.
  • Cross-Functional Collaboration: Workshops involve stakeholders from various disciplines, promoting diverse perspectives and ideation.

4. Regular Knowledge Sharing Meetings

Regular knowledge sharing meetings are scheduled sessions where researchers and teams gather to discuss and share key findings, insights, and ongoing research discussions. These meetings foster a culture of transparency and collaboration, allowing researchers to communicate their findings, insights, and any challenges they face. This approach ensures that research insights are actively circulated among the team and can be discussed in the context of the broader project goals.

Benefits of regular knowledge sharing meetings

  • Active Communication: Researchers have the opportunity to share insights and progress regularly, ensuring that the team is informed.
  • Feedback and Validation: Team members can provide feedback and validation on research findings, enhancing the quality of insights.

A combination of collaborative note-taking tools, UX research platforms, design thinking workshops, and regular knowledge sharing meetings offers a more holistic approach to addressing the limitations of Research Repositories. These alternative tools and methods enable User Experience Researchers in the public sector to capture, analyse, and share insights while maintaining context, narrative understanding, and real-time collaboration. By employing a well-rounded toolbox, researchers can ensure that the full richness of user experiences is captured and utilised effectively for user-centred design and decision-making.

While Research Repositories hold promise in organising research data within the public sector, it’s crucial to recognise their limitations and seek alternative approaches that capture the full richness of user experiences and facilitate seamless collaboration. A holistic approach that combines specialised tools, collaborative practices, and transparent communication is essential for unlocking the true potential of User Experience Research, especially in the public sector where ideally all this information and data would be in the open and useable by anyone, such as the research repository originally started by London Borough of Hackney Council.