👋 Hello! My name is Brendan and I’m the Director of Customer Development at User Interviews, which means I spend a lot of time talking to companies about their research practice (and how User Interviews fits in).
Over the last handful of years, most enterprise companies that I’ve spoken with have talked about the need to democratize research across their organization. More recently, however, I’ve noticed an emerging trend in which teams are moving toward a model that feels like an iteration of democratization.
We believe in sharing our knowledge here at User Interviews—both within the team and with other curious humans. Although, at the moment, evidence of these trends is mostly anecdotal, I’m happy to share my observations about how approaches to democratization may be changing.
First, what does it mean to ‘democratize research’ across an organization?
Research democratization is an approach centered around empowering other teams, outside of the full-time research team, to conduct research, analyze the results, and take action.
The need for democratization depends on a company’s research maturity. Do they have a full-time, embedded research function? How big is it? How many other teams need to or would like to conduct research? How does research funnel through the organization?
Small, full-time research teams can quickly become a bottleneck, especially for large companies, so democratization seems like the obvious solution. “If our full-time research team can’t handle the number of requests that are coming in, we’ll just empower everyone to do it themselves!” The most common issues that I’m hearing around full democratization relate to:
- Gaining buy-in: Getting other teams to buy into learning new skills, tools, and processes is not an easy task.
- Maintaining quality: Does democratization jeopardize the quality of research results?
- Measuring success: Will the process become unwieldy and difficult to track? I.e., How much are we spending on research? What’s the output? Who is reaching out to which types of participants, when, and how?
The new theme that I’m hearing, primarily from our larger enterprise customers, is that—because full democratization didn’t work, isn’t scalable, or there simply isn’t an appetite for it—they are now moving towards an ‘assisted model’ of democratization (or Democratization 2.0).
Iterating on research democratization: The assisted model
Researcher-assisted democratization is not a monolithic trend by any means. By and large, the companies I’ve spoken to are tinkering, iterating, and figuring out this new approach as they go.
At some companies, the goal is to have all research requests funnel through a team of dedicated User Researchers, who then determine how (and if) those requests should be handled by Research or another team. The level of assistance varies on a case by case basis; in some cases, a full-time researcher will facilitate the project from start to finish; and in other cases, they might just act as support.
Other companies are looking to establish more defined lanes up front. For instance, product teams will run their own evaluative research with less hands-on researcher involvement, while the research team will own all other, more challenging user research methods.
In either case, researcher assistance is key. The idea here is that non-research teams will be enabled by researchers—but also directed by them through prescriptive, easy-to-follow processes. This includes guidance around tools, and any necessary guardrails to ensure that projects run by non-researchers meet the standards of quality research. The main goals of this new model are to simultaneously enable everyone to do research while still making sure they are doing it in the right way.
I’m grateful to all the User Interviews customers who have shared their insights and experiences and am excited to see how this trend continues to unfold. If you have any insights to share about democratization at your company, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org – I’d love to chat!
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