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5 Best Practices for Engaging Your Stakeholders in Research

Words by Matt Lardner, Visuals by Delaney Gibbons

Researchers at teams of all sizes are challenged to make an impact within their organizations through their work. Considering the many “hats” a researcher wears, simply conducting and presenting research at the end of a project in a single time and format is not enough to truly engage key stakeholders—or to close the gap between research production and research use.

Often, decision-makers may not be involved with your research until it’s presented (or not involved at all), may not understand the insights from the research, or may never apply the findings within an organization.

So how can you make people care about the results of your work, and use your research insights to improve and transform business outcomes?

Researchers can engage stakeholders in research by ensuring they're engaged at different stages of a project and contextualizing the results to share what their stakeholders value most. Below we’ll offer tactics, tips, and strategies from researchers and dscout users, focused on making research matter to decision-makers during a project and beyond.

Involve your stakeholders throughout the process

Among the most surefire ways to generate buy-in is to involve a stakeholder in stages from research planning to its conclusion.

When beginning a project, review your plan and goals with others who may be invested in the outcomes—then ask for their perspectives, hypotheses, or even what they’d like to learn from the project. Collecting initial feedback may improve project design while helping researchers understand how to communicate the results that stakeholders are personally interested in.

For stakeholders who may struggle to understand what’s involved in the research process or how much work goes into surfacing those insights, it can be beneficial to bring them into the research while it’s being conducted. Not only does this build credibility for your work, but it may also provoke questions or improve understanding when you share the analysis.

Depending on seniority level or other obligations, it may also be worth democratizing your research by adding teammates as collaborators and assigning items to other team members who may benefit from being involved. Even if their contribution is minor, the participation of stakeholders further invests them in the outcome.

If a decision-maker doesn’t have time to be hands-on, research tools that facilitate observation are effective ways to provide a lens into a project without needing to actively contribute. Adding key stakeholders as viewers to an online project allows them to delve into the research at their convenience.

Share early and often, and you’re more likely to re-engage these stakeholders when research insights are delivered.

Atomize your insights

In today’s fast-moving and information-dense world, the standard slidedeck isn’t always the most effective way to share research findings—especially if it’s across several departments.

Because stakeholders’ roles and priorities are different, they don’t all care about the same results from your project. They also may not have time to carefully read and process an entire deck or report.

Researchers across organizations are reporting success in sharing accessible, immediate, smaller outputs from projects, as opposed to processing more thorough, long-format reports.

During analysis, segment by focus areas or highlight quotes of interest to certain stakeholders inside a project. This will pay dividends when sharing your findings.

Then, try sending contextual observations to stakeholders in a personalized email, or pulling some interesting quotes and sharing them in your company’s relevant Slack channels.

Putting your findings in context for specific audiences is more likely to resonate than sharing more general outputs—and you may be able to deliver these more quickly than a comprehensive report.

Challenge assumptions

If you’re struggling to catch—or keep—the attention of a stakeholder, positioning yourself as an outsider with a fresh perspective and asking questions that challenge assumptions may persuade a decision-maker to recognize the value of user research insights.

UX leader Natalie Hanson tells us that it’s the responsibility of the researcher to validate that decisions about products or solutions are made with the user or customer in mind.

“In regards to being a researcher or leading the UX team, my job is actually to burst the bubble for other people, right? Engineers, business stakeholders. People who are absolutely confident in what they want and what they believe the solution should be, but they have no user data to back it up? I feel like my responsibility is to say, “Don’t build this thing without doing some user validation, first.” Really making sure that I’m getting people to think beyond their own view of how the problem should be solved, so that we deliver the best possible outcome for our client or for our company or whatever it is.”

If research verifies an original assumption, you’ve built confidence in making that decision. If it contradicts what’s expected, your business is able to reconsider an initiative that users may not want—ensuring that the right product or solution actually reaches the market.

Use participants’ own words

Instead of telling stakeholders about what participants thought second-hand, directly sharing their responses is a powerful engagement tool in the researcher’s toolkit.

Bringing the actual voice of the customer to leadership can break through the noise, helping key stakeholders listen to and empathize with the consumer perspective.

If you use a platform like dscout for remote qualitative research, you’ll be able to create, download and share video playlists of participant responses that may be especially evocative, or emblematic of a bigger theme or takeaway.

Often, companies find that one or two research participants are representative of a customer persona or profile. Sharing participant feedback that illustrates or emphasizes key themes, or even following up with these star participants to deeply understand the customer, helps researchers connect with leadership through consumer inputs.

Deliver in more engaging formats

More and more, researchers sharing their findings are rethinking the slidedeck in favor of alternative deliverables that encourage or demand engagement.

One creative way to share findings is to make them tactile. ShopRunner research lead Autumn Schultz recommends making shareouts physical and prominently placed. For journey mapping research, she’ll print a massive map displayed on a wall in ShopRunner’s office, then write observations on the map and invite others to do the same, creating a living, interactive document.

Many other companies use poster boards on which they can pin research findings and deliverables. To capture the attention of passers-by, try including a photo of a research participant next to an insightful pull-quote from the project.

If video was a component of your research, assemble a collage of clips that reveal key themes. An effective example we’ve seen through dscout is a large technology manufacturer conducting user research; its customer experience team created a video of scout participants for its yearly all-hands meeting, sharing the customer perspective across all of its teams for a company-wide empathy injection.

At Square, UX Research Lead Kat Lee sought a way to bring employees out of the bubble to interact with their customers. First, she created banners to hang in prominent stairwells with photos and profiles of their customers. Then, Kat actually brought a few customers into the office. A pop-up shop experience of food vendors using Square for payments allowed her coworkers to interact with their customers in real life, building empathy while solidifying understanding of the customer experience.

When stakeholders see collaboration happening publicly in creative formats, they’ll be more likely to engage with the findings.

For more on engaging stakeholders and overcoming other research roadblocks, check out what we learned from researchers about advocating with impact. Plus, keep an eye out for updates to dscout that will make collaborating with and engaging teammates easier than ever before.

Ready to see the dscout platform for yourself? Sign up for an account and start exploring.

A marketer, writer and former journalist, Matt's obsessed with discovering and telling fascinating stories about people and companies. You'll find him walking around Chicago with a podcast in his ears.

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