Communications as research strategy

Another researcher contacted me recently about a nationwide project to help government administrators serve the public better through technology. Our call was supposed to be about refining the interview guide, and how it aligned with the project’s goals. While we covered this, it was the communications strategy that was the big takeaway for them.

We talked about how the insights would be shared. “A report.” Yes, and who would be the one telling the research participants’ stories? Would they would be willing to share their lessons learned with their counterparts (other public sector employees); maybe through a video panel discussion? Might national organizations that gather these public sector administrators together regularly or annually be open to hosting this session?

Asking these questions early in the research phase meant the research goal would be more focused on the intended impact or behavioral change of public sector managers and executives. To be fair, when starting a research project, we don’t know all the details up front about how to communicate insights. The results may lead to something more in line with, say, a public art project than an ethnographic video.

Yes, it depends, and reflecting on our assumptions that new information (research insights) will change people’s behavior is helpful when starting research. It helps reimagines that planning such research isn’t about handing it over to other people and letting them figure out what to do with it. If we want to create impact then we need to design that experience for our clients.

For example, Nick Bowmast encourages us “to help client teams discover their own punchline from user research, by designing experiences for them rather than delivering findings to them.” His process curates the raw material from research in an accessible way for others to draw some of their own conclusions when presented with say snippets of video or audio or transcriptions.

Timeout to speak with my research colleagues publishing in peer reviewed journals. Hi. Understandably, you may critique this approach as blending incomplete findings and discussions sections of a paper. Right. To be fair to Nick and his clients, that doesn’t mean they aren’t gaining meaningful insights. In fact, Nick’s approach often has his clients accompany him on the research. The arc of this process shares “[…] an epistemology of experiential and participative knowing” found in community-based participatory research. Something peer reviewed journals are interested in. Same page? Moving on.

So, I’ve found public sector leaders want to apply insights to drive the intended results of their administration or organization. Flexible templates are one way to help govies adapt knowledge or a process new to them within their context. We do this in San Francisco government through our service design strategy workshops and new employee orientations as well as everyday projects with colleagues. Each use-case adapts a template to an iterative strategy of learning, building and testing something.

Considering the communication strategy upfront means asking stakeholders early for examples of insights or information that changed their mindset, work practices or processes. If they share these artifact or findings that created behavioral change in their lives or others at the start of a research project then it could help the initial design research strategy and scope of work.

What about you and your experiences with sharing insights from design research projects? What’s missing from my thinking here that needs to be fine-tuned or rethought outright? Please share.