Conduct Research

You’re ready to start exploring! You should dedicate several weeks to Conduct Research while Debriefing with Your Team (the next activity) once a week. That way, you can see where there are holes in your understanding, and target your exploration accordingly.

Throughout the time, continue to cycle between conducting research, and debriefing with your team until one of two things happen:

1. You feel like you understand your design challenge from a variety of perspectives, and you don’t have large gaps in your knowledge, or

2. Time runs out. You will never learn everything there is to know, and that’s okay!

Be open-minded, be empathetic, and be curious!

Time Needed

Length of time depends on the breadth of your design challenge. For smaller challenges, think in terms of weeks; for larger challenges, think in terms of months.

Interview Guide

Interviewing people is about uncovering their deep experience  of your design challenge. Think about it as uncovering the “why”. Here’s a few things to keep in mind when you are conducting interviews. There's more on the Interview Guide PDF on the right.

 

Research Preparation Checklist

Before you go out “into the field” (as we say), make sure you’ve thought through the following items.

  • Have you identified specific people you will be engaging?
  • Have you scheduled a meeting time with them?
  • Have you let them know if and how you will be recording your session (notes, voice recorder, camera)?
  • Have you prepared them for what you will be doing (making sure they know who will be there, what you will be doing, what the project is for, and how you will be using the information gathered from them – i.e., if taking pictures, may be sharing on public site…)?
  • Have you reviewed the Interview Guide?
  • Have you prepared interview questions?
  • Have you reviewed them with your teammates (if needed)?
  • Have you tested them on someone you know to make sure they are getting the information you need?

 

Crafting Interview Questions

Like methods, there are various types of questions you can use to get at different aspects of a challenge or experience. Use the following framework to craft your conversation.

Remember to avoid closed-ended questions that only allow for two responses - yes and no.
Open-ended questions give the person the opportunity to provide a lengthier and more thoughtful response.

 

Interviewing People

You’re ready to go out and learn! In design thinking, we call this “going into the field.” Below are a few tips for what to think about when you are conducting your interviews. After each interview, you should take 15 minutes to write up the key takeaways while they are fresh in your mind. You can use the Debrief Worksheet provided in the Interview Guide PDF.

 

DO:

  • Ask open-ended questions instead of closed questions
  • Allow for pauses - sometimes silence is a great way to prompt people to reflect on what they’ve said and go deeper
  • Watch for physical and emotional signals
  • Ask follow-up questions - especially ones that get at “why”
  • Ask clarifying questions if something isn’t clear or if there are inconsistencies
  • Encourage stories around specific experiences or instances
  • Use active listening
  • Thank them for their time
  • Take a few minutes to jot down top-of-mind learnings and thoughts after each interview


TRY NOT TO:

  • Ask leading questions - ones that have assumptions built into them
  • Let your questions ramble or trail off
  • Rush to get to the next question
  • Interrupt with acknowledgements, confirmations or “uh huh”s
  • Interject your views

 

 

 

Observation Guide

Observing or shadowing people is about witnessing how they experience your design challenge. Think about it as uncovering the “how”. Here’s what you need to know about observing or shadowing people. There's more on the Obervation Guide PDF on the right.

 

Research Preparation Checklist

Before you go out “into the field” (as we say), make sure you’ve thought through the following items.

  • Have you identified specific people you will be engaging?
  • Have you scheduled a meeting time with them?
  • Have you let them know if and how you will be recording your session (notes, voice recorder, camera)?
  • Have you prepared them for what you will be doing (making sure they know who will be there, what you will be doing, what the project is for, and how you will be using the information gathered from them – i.e., if taking pictures, may be sharing on public site…)?
  • Have you reviewed the Observation Guide?
  • Have you selected specific situations, events, environments, or people that you want to observe or shadow?
  • Sometimes you will need permission to observe in certain environments (such as other schools, hospitals, child care centers, etc.). Have you made the necessary arrangements for conducting your observations or shadowing?

 

Observing People

 

You’re ready to go out and learn! In design thinking, we call this “going into the field.” Below are a few tips for what to think about when you are conducting your interviews. After each interview, you should take 15 minutes to write up the key takeaways while they are fresh in your mind. See the Debrief Worksheet in the Observation Guide PDF.

 

DO:

  • Describe what you’re seeing in detail as it’s happening, even if you don’t know why or what the importance of the observation will be.
  • Look for how people may “work around” a particular challenge.
  • Try to be as inconspicuous as possible - if shadowing, ask the person to do things as they would if you weren’t there.
  • Record time periodically throughout note taking to make it easier to revisit events later.
  • If you can, title observations as you go - ordering pizza, arrival, waiting in line, etc.
  • Observe body language and gestural cues to add context to event (woman looks confused, man peers down an aisle, etc.)
  • If you can, snap photos of specific events that represent the experience you’re observing.
  • Take a few minutes after observing or shadowing to jot down key learnings and thoughts.

 

TRY NOT TO:

  • Get overwhelmed with information overload - just take note of what you can
  • Think that you aren’t seeing anything new - keep with it

 

 

Quick Start Guide

Here are some ideas for quick ways to gather last minute information, or if you’re struggling for new ideas and perspectives. You can do these activities from your smart phone or computer when you have a free minute during your day.

 

First, break your design challenge into a few different keywords.

 

For instance, if your design challenge is: “How might we foster differentiation and personalized learning by thinking about the whole child?”, your keywords might be: Differentiation, Personalized Learning, and “Whole Child”  Learning.

 

Twitter Search

Pop your keywords into a Twitter search. Send a quick tweet to the first 10 folks you find on Twitter, read through their Twitter feed to see if there’s anything of interest, and ask them to share a helpful resource with you. Perhaps it’s their favorite website on the topic, a tool that they find useful, or a white paper from a leading thinker on the topic. You can also pose one of your research questions to them directly.

 

Friends & Family

Pick someone from your contacts who is not an educator, and send them a text or email asking them what they think of your keywords. Since they are not educators you may have to provide some context, but tell them that you’re wondering if they have any thoughts or insight on the topic. Tapping into their non-education knowledge may broaden your perspective on the topic.

 

Video Search

Watch a video! Enter your keywords into a YouTube search. You may have to sift through some irrelevant content, but you may also find a gem that really gets you thinking. You might find a classroom example, or an interview with a key player in the field you are exploring. Or even something sarcastic that makes you laugh. Either way, it’s a few minutes that helps to shift your perspective about your design challenge.

Photograph key moments

Photographing during your research sessions (interviews, observations, etc.) allows you to capture moments that can help you remember key information, share what you learned with others, and provide “evidence” of insights. To facilitate these goals, take photographs that show:

  • The overall context, such as photographs of the exterior of the building and pictures of the entire office
  • The person alongside other people or objects in the environment
  • Close-ups of the person interacting with specific objects
  • Anything you find surprising or insightful

Revise your question sets as you go

Thoughtful questions take time to develop. Be prepared to revise your question sets as you go and share with your team.

Trade your "expert" view for a beginner's mindset

As you are learning from other people, be sure to adopt the right frame of mind. Trade your “expert” view for a beginner’s mindset in order to see the challenge through a different lens, and question your assumptions. Listen and look for how others see, think about, and experience the challenge - and more broadly, the world.

As little interpretation as possible

As you are learning from others, record as much as you can with as little personal interpretation as possible. You never know what information might become important later on in the process.

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