Slides and task model diagram from our UXBristol workshop

Thanks to everyone who came and participated in our UXBristol workshop today.

There was a good buzz and we’ve got plenty of ideas to work through to work out our next steps as we move from the discovery stage to the alpha stage.

We’ll be posting up all the outputs from the workshop soon.

In the meantime, you can view and download the task model diagram (PDF, 1 page):

And here’s the slide-deck with our findings on google slides

[Update 19 July]

Thanks to…

How does a recruiter support the participant journey?

If we conclude that the journey for a participant looks something like this;

  1. People find out about opportunities to take part in research through newsletters, social media, friends telling them about it or being contacted directly.
  2. These people then get in contact with someone (researcher or recruiter) to organise taking part in the research, finding out what will happen, what they’ll have to do and when it will be.
  3. At this point these people (or participants at this stage?) then go to the research to take part, collect their incentive (if they’re having one) and then finish the journey.

What happens to support this journey? This is the question we asked ourselves. We wanted to know how are the needs of participants being met today when they are taking part in research.

The stages of this journey which were more of a mystery to us were that of ‘find out’ and ‘organise’;

  • Who manages these stages and how??
  • How are participants recruited to take part in research?
  • What methods are used to recruit participants?
  • What challenges occur when recruiting participants?

To discover the answers to these questions we needed to research with participant recruiters, in addition to our research interviews with participants.

To really learn how participants are recruited and to understand how participant needs are met, we conducted a contextual inquiry of a participant recruitment specialist, People for Research.

What we did

We spent the day in the offices of People for Research and observed:

  • how they contact participants on the day of the research, to ensure the participant hasn’t forgotten and is still able to attend
  • a range of methods being used to contact potential participants  to invite them to take part in a various research opportunities
  • how recruiters screen participants, to confirm and organise the research session ensuring the research participant is suitable

After spending the day observing all these facets of recruitment we conducted a workshop with a group of participant recruiters to understand what they knew about their participants and to reflect on the observations we had through the day.

What we found

Serial participants

Unfortunately there are serial participants, people who want to, and are willing to take part in many research opportunities even if they don’t fit the criteria for taking part.

“They’ll use different accents”

Serial participants will use many means to take part in research. Recruiters work to find out who these people are, and share information about them, to reduce the chances of them getting through to the research. Which could have a detrimental impact on that round of research.

Drop outs

No one likes a “no show” and there are many tactics employed in which to increase the personal nature of the relationship between the participant and recruiter which aim to decrease the chances of drop outs.

“Certain audience types are more likely to drop out’

To prevent these drop outs recruiters use:

  • Phone as a channel which is seen as more personal and friendly
  • Direct contact details to the recruiter which mean the participant has a person to speak to
  • Photos of the recruiters at the end of their emails, again providing a personable communication
  • For some user types, communications are lessened “if it is a business owner I won’t pester them with lots of confirmations”

“I bonded with a participant over a football team from Latvia, very niche, but because of that I knew he would turn up”

Through these communications with participants further topics can be approached which help reduce the anxiety of participants:

  • Participants can be told how important their participation is, giving them a stake in turning up
  • Questions, that without answer provide lots of anxiety, such as ‘what do I wear?’ are answered confidently
  • Relationships can be built between participant and recruiter, building a brand of trust and loyalty.

Research starts during recruitment

“The research starts on the screener… we give ask open-ended questions in the screener to see how they will feel when they’re in the session”

Research participants’ needs start much earlier than when the video camera in the lab gets switched on. Needs start when the participant chooses chooses to respond to an opportunity for a piece of research.

We’ll be sharing more of what we’ve discovered during our UX Bristol 2017 workshop and in further blog posts.


Sprint 2 Sprintnotes

End of sprint 2, already at the halfway point, arghhhhh! Insights have started fitting together this sprint, however, it feels like we may have bitten off more than we can chew to be ready before we present at UX Bristol. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This discovery is more than just having something to present at UX Bristol, but having this in the calendar does provide just the right amount of pressure to get things done.

We’ll be de-prioritising some of our activities to be put on ice until after the conference. Fortunately what we are uncovering is great, and so fear not UX Bristol attendees we’ll have plenty for you.

This sprint we’ve managed to:

  • Analyse the data that we gathered from the interviews of participants in the previous sprint.
  • Interviewed a User Researcher
  • Created, and sent out, a survey for people who have been participants to further explore the themes coming from our interviews
  • Spent a day with a participant recruitment agency to observe how they interact with potential participants
  • Ran a workshop with participant recruiters to explore how they support the participant journey

Analysing our interviews

For the majority of the time Nic and I are actually working remotely from each other. This has been fine up until the point we attempted to conduct the analysis of our participant interviews on a rainy Tuesday night. We attempted to analyse our insights, although we had problem – geography. I was in a Travelodge looking over Southwark train line, Nic was in his office with a household to see to bed etc. Added into the mix the conundrum of where the data is, Nic had the raw notes whereas I had a bad quality picture fo them. We started, I kid you not, with me reading out the raw notes I could see on a picture taken from the session with Nic typing them up into bullets so we could group them and analyse them. This lasted 10 minutes before we realised that actually that idea was awful.

In an ideal place, we would have digitised our notes, and raw data and worked from there. The problem was we were digitising, analysing and it was late. So what did we do,  Nic mapped out the raw notes of 3 participants on his whiteboard, whilst I read all notes from pictures and analysed the other 2 users. We then convened, shared what themes we were distilling from the data. This proved to be highly effective and we ended up with a bunch of views hypotheses and questions for our next round. Bingo, We got to bed past 12.

Personas of participants?

We wanted to further explore the themes that we uncovered through our interviews, and hypothesised that there may be different types of participants who have different behaviours and motivations for taking part. We didn’t feel that we could devise personas from the small number of interviews we had conducted. So we’ve designed a survey, as a low time intensive research method to explore further the themes that we discovered through our in-depth interviews.

Having 5 in-depth interviews to inform our questions makes our surveys fairly robust, as we’ve been able to use words that we know participants use.

Some of themes we’re exploring through our survey are:

  • Will participants only take part in certain types of research?
  • What factors motivate participants to take part in research?
  • Do participants segment on how they rank these motivations?
  • How confident do participants feel about the research when it’s taking place?

Not getting biased

We’re researching about taking part in research that is conducted by researchers. (Meta, right?). We’re aware that we are user researchers, therefore we will carry a bias around how research should be designed and conducted. If we’re not careful we’re in danger in allowing our assumptions get in the way of describing the participant journey as we design research too, and we’re designing this piece of research.

Due to this we have looked at opportunities to speak with other researchers, and this sprint we were able to interview another researcher who works for a small agency. This was really useful, and we found out some things that we would not have done had we carried our own biases.

Seeing the hidden side of research

We spent a day at the People for Research office in central Bristol. We spent the morning hanging out with the team seeing what they did, how and why. Through observing the recruiters we learnt about the intricacies of building a rapport with participants. However, it’s not just recruitment that PFR get up to, they need to keep enticing new people to take part in research whilst also looking after their base of eager participants.

In the afternoon we had the opportunity to run a workshop to probe further on what we had observed in the morning. The workshop attendees illustrated how they support the journey that a participant goes on when they take part in research. They shared with us their ‘war stories’ of recruiting participants which really added colour to what could be considered the actual start of research, much earlier than when the researcher formally runs on the camera.  

Next sprint we’ll:

  • Analyse our survey data
  • Get a rough sketch down of how the UX Bristol workshop might look

It was good to see today a conference dedicated to User Research happen in London. Sad not to be there but what did come out loud and clear was a message of design your research to be user centred. We couldn’t agree more.

Sprint 1 – Sprintnotes

End of our first official sprint. Today we’re camped in Casa del Nic, he’s got the coffee flowing (one thing you can rely on Nic for) and I’m hiding in the shade every time we step outside. (This is not kind weather for us ginger folk).

Anyway back to what we’re done this sprint, and considering how much time we’re actually spending on this we’ve accomplished a lot.

So sprint isn’t quite the right word to describe the period of time that we’re talking about, nor does it give you a true reflection of the methodologies that we’re adopting in which to manage this discovery phase. Truly agile methodologies struggle to apply to research heavy discovery phases. This is because there is a lot of up front planning that needs to be done when you’ve got research involved. Participants need a lead time to be recruited. Further we want methodological rigour to what we’re doing. So the mentality of just doing enough finds a hard time to be applied.

Given this there is a degree of waterfall planning that has it’s place in a discovery. We’ve certainly got elements of that in place. We have some milestones that we need to hit, and we have planned what needs to happen and in what order to achieve them. However, we’re also adopting some of the principles and practical ways of working of agile in our work. We are chunking our work up into fortnightly periods, ‘sprints’ that help give us focus for what needs to be done and nicely allows for these notes to have a place 😉. Further to this, we have got a sense of priority and some degree of adaptability in the work that we are doing. If needed some work can drop. If a theme emerges that we didn’t expect that we want to follow up then we have the ability to change course if feeds into our objectives.

As this is a side project me and Nic are committing a full day together every ‘sprint’, in between those days we’re picking up work separately and communicating through various channels to keep in touch.

Sprint in brief

So what have we been up to this sprint.

For starters we actually kicked this show off. Two weeks ago I took Nic on a tour around Cardiff looking for good coffee and stable wifi. The aim we set ourselves for the day – be able to describe what we’re doing, why and what it might look like. These may seem really basic, but these foundations are important. We had spent a lot of time talking about what we were doing, however we still weren’t quite describing the same part of the elephant. This day was to do exactly that. We talked freely about why we were interested in doing this. What we felt it was and wasn’t. To help this we articulated what outcomes we wanted to see and what principles would govern us.

The outcomes we want to see

  • Non-research teams understand what research is
  • Describe what other things a researcher does
  • A framework in which have a conversation about research
  • More research, that is less wrong
  • A tweet from someone saying they gained better insight from an interview by making a change based on something they had learnt from this discovery

Our principles

  • Fun
  • Thought provoking
  • Conversational
  • Open

During this sprint we also we were also able to have a very thought provoking (those principles already being put to use) with Katie, who runs the GOV.UK Panel. This was great because it gave us insight into how a channel that is normally participants first touchpoint in the research journey works. Also Katie was kind enough to share with us what as a panel owner she is thinking about.

Questions around;

  • How to keep panel members invested?
  • How to describe what the purpose of a panel actually is?
  • How to get people to sign up to panel?

These things we are taking into our thinking during our discovery.

A great day researching research

Today, as part of our Participant Discovery, we conducted five 30 minute telephone research interviews.

Based on our agreed criteria, People for Research screened and recruited our participants, and we ran the sessions from People Thinking’s Bristol-based office.


We drank quite a bit of coffee. Sometimes in the sunshine.

Ben was the lead interviewer, with me (Nic) taking notes on post-its and plotting them along a rough ‘participant journey’ timeline on the whiteboard.

We weren’t sure what we were going to discover, and as Ben says, it’s good to assume “we’re going to get this bit wrong.”

The calls went really well.

We had a good range of participants, who’d participated in various types of research. We’re particularly interested in in-depth, one-to-one research, and what’s like to participate – from being recruited through to receiving the post-research incentive and beyond.

Our next step will be to conduct some thematic analysis on our findings.

For some reflection on what user research is, have a read of Ben’s #weeknotes (published yesterday).

What’s it like to be a user research participant?

And how can understanding this help us improve our research and the insight we gain from it?

This is what we’re working on over the next couple of months.

Today is our kick-off day. We’re in Cardiff where there’s coffee and wifi. This morning we were in The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, this afternoon we’re in The Little Man Café.

What are we doing?

  • We’re running a discovery to understand and map out what a user research participant’s journey looks like

Why are we doing this?

  • We wonder if by having a better understanding of what it’s like to be a participant, we can improve the insight we gain from our research

Who are we?

We are Ben Cubbon and Nic Price.

This is a People Thinking side project. We’re doing this in a non-commercial capacity. We’ll blog about what we’re doing, and we’ll share our findings and any outputs and outcomes along the way.

Who are we working with?

  • User research participants
  • User researchers – including the UK’s cross-government user research community
  • People for Research, a Bristol-based participant recruitment company
  • You?

Anything else?

As part of this work, we’ll be running a workshop at UX Bristol* on Friday 14th July to share what we’ve discovered so far, and to flesh out what we want to do next.

You can read and comment on our UX Bristol workshop proposal. Here’s an excerpt:

What’s the user journey for a user research participant? In this workshop we’ll share what we discovered when we researched this question. Attendees will collaborate in sketching up ideas to answer the question: how might we better meet the needs of research participants?

*UX Bristol tickets will go on sale at 10am on Tuesday 16th May – they sell out really quickly every year