Words by Nathan Reiff with contributions from Amy Rothbaum and Sarah Herrera, Visuals by Austin Smoldt-Saenz
We’re all busy, which is why it can be hard to make time for internal research. It’s often seen as something that’s more of a nice-to-have than a must-have. And for some teams, that might be the case.
However, for others, running internal research can be the key to understanding each other, reducing biases and blindspots, identifying areas to better support your teammates, and developing new team standards and processes.
When discussing the importance of internal research for growing teams in particular, Sarah Herrara (who I’ll introduce below) put it perfectly: “If you don’t grow together, you grow apart.” When done right, internal research can catalyze growing together, but there are a few special considerations that any researcher should keep in mind when looking inward and running internal research.
In this article, I’ll walk through a few of the special considerations I’ve experimented with across two research projects: (1) an internally facing project at dscout and (2) a project that I helped run and analyze for one of dscout’s clients. Before we dive into the specifics of the internal research special considerations, here is some background information on the projects I’ll be referencing throughout this article:
The first project is dscout’s yearly “Identity and Inclusion Survey”, which is focused on understanding the demographic makeup of dscout employees, how they feel about various aspects of life at dscout, and identifying disparities in sentiments between identity groups. The participants in this survey were dscout employees. Throughout this article, I’ll refer to this study as “the Identity and Inclusion Survey”.
The second project was run by Amy Rothbaum and Sarah Herrera, who are two dscout pros that came to us for help running a Diary study aimed at understanding the day-to-day experiences of their teammates. The participants in this study were UXRs in Amy’s and Sarah’s organization. Throughout this article, I’ll refer to this study as “Researching the Researcher”.
Though these two studies focused on fairly different content, they had a similar goal: to better understand and support their teammates. Throughout the rest of this article, I’ll walk you through some considerations that were taken into account when running these studies and hopefully convince you that running internal research is something that you can (and should!) do.
Note: throughout this article, I’ve interspersed some dscout-specific tips for running internal research. Of course, internal research does not have to be run using dscout, but if you do find yourself doing so, these tips are for you!
Consideration 1: Respect and design for participant privacy
When running research with your own colleagues as participants, privacy is of the utmost importance. The goal of the research is to understand participants’ authentic experiences, so they should feel able to talk about anything without fear of judgment, repercussions, or simply someone they work with every day knowing what they said.
In order to design your research with privacy in mind, design every question in a way that avoids identifying respondents. As you may have noticed, both studies referenced in this article use unmoderated research methods, which is typically the best way to ensure participant privacy.
When drafting Researching the Researcher, Sarah focused questions on higher-level processes and latent experiences, as opposed to specific teams, projects, and initiatives. This helped ensure that the raw data that was represented in reporting and shareouts weren’t identifying.
In both the Identity and Inclusion survey and Researching the Researcher, we also chose to steer clear of any video data, so as not to identify participants. Finally, in the Identity and Inclusion survey, we made every question optional. This allowed participants to decide for themselves when they felt that something might be too identifying. This isn’t necessary for all internal studies, but helps when the content of your study is more personal.
In order to respect participant privacy, it can also be a good idea to have a third party conduct analysis. For Researching the Researcher, dscout was the third party that conducted analysis, which allowed internal stakeholders to stay out of the raw data.
When discussing third-party analysis, Amy and Sarah said that this helped encourage participants to share more openly and reduced bias in analysis. Finally, as mentioned at the start of this article, it can be hard to make time for internal research, so having a third party conduct analysis can relieve bandwidth constraints.
You or your third-party analyst can use dscout’s new exclude entries feature to redact any entries that contain identifying information.
Connect with your dscout account manager if you're interested in learning about the other kinds of research support (e.g., mission summaries, analysis) we can offer your team.
Consideration 2: Leverage creativity to encourage participation
Just as it can be hard to make time to run internal research, it can be hard to make time to participate in it. Thus, it’s vitally important to plan for slow and low participation rates and get creative with encouraging participation.
However, before you even get to fielding and encouraging participation, it’s a good idea to design your research in a way that makes it quick and easy for your teammates to participate. One easy way to do this is to ask minimal open-ended questions. If your privacy level allows for it, you could consider allowing participants to choose whether to submit responses via typed word or video.
It can also be helpful to make sure that each and every question ladders up directly to a research question, as opposed to extracting data just because it might be interesting. When designing the Identity and Inclusion survey, we toyed with the idea of asking about political affiliation.
While this certainly would have resulted in very interesting data, we didn’t have any clear uses in mind for that data. Steering clear of extraneous questions prevented us from extracting unnecessary information and also helped us keep the survey as short and easy to complete as possible.
Though monetary incentives are always the most effective way to encourage participation, it’s often not possible to pay out internal team members for participation in research. Thus, it can be helpful to utilize alternative methods. In both the Identity and Inclusion survey and Researching the Researcher, we utilized emotional and social appeals by telling teammates that their voice was important, reminding them that participation would directly benefit them, and sharing current and target completion rates.
Amy and Sarah recalled putting even more unconventional methods to use by promising silly performances by team leads if the desired completion rate was met and developing various memes to remind participants to submit their entries. Though these may seem like small encouragements, every little bit counts when running internal research.
Of course, it’s also important to develop a consistent reminder schedule during fieldwork. Carefully consider the cadence and method with which you’ll send out reminders, so as to maximize impact without bugging your participants too much.
Amy noted that, when sending out reminders for Researching the Researcher, it was useful to rely on her personal relationships with her teammates to encourage participation. Finally, when participation seems to be plateauing, consider switching up the sender of reminders in order to spark further engagement.
The Diary manage page makes it really easy to track progress and send bulk reminders to sub-groups of participants based on progress throughout your mission. The manage page is also separate from any data, so internal stakeholders can track progress and send reminders without exposing themselves to raw data, if necessary.
Finally, and possibly most importantly, build in flexibility to your timeline. Like you, your participants are busy and things will get in the way of participating in research. In both the Identity and Inclusion survey and Researching the Researcher, we made sure that we were able to grant extensions and be generally flexible with timelines so as to get submissions from a few more participants who would have otherwise not participated.
Though you can set due dates in dscout, they are not technically binding. This makes it really easy to grant extensions and build flexibility into your mission’s fieldwork.
Consideration 3: Ask participants for their feedback
Every organization is different and has a different level of tolerance for internal research. Getting feedback at every stage of the project helps to ensure that you’re running research that matches your organization’s appetite for it. When running the Identity and Inclusion survey, we had an anonymous feedback form open for the duration of the project and specifically asked for feedback on the brief, survey draft, in the survey itself, and after sharing out the data.
Similarly, in Researching the Researcher, we asked participants for feedback in the Diary mission itself. This type of feedback collection will help you better understand how internal research works at your organization, which is especially important if you plan to run iterative research.
The Identity and Inclusion survey has been run yearly for the past two years and we were able to use feedback from the first survey to inform the design of the second survey (which also had higher participation rates than the first survey).
Using dscout’s new collaboration features, your teammates will be able to review your research design and leave questions or comments all within the platform. Once fieldwork begins, you can revoke their access to your mission, so as to preserve participant privacy.
After all’s said and done and you’re ready to share your findings, be sure to think carefully about your audience and how to maximize the impact of your research. In the Identity and Inclusion survey, we did three rounds of share-outs: one with the dscout Inclusion Committee, one with the leadership team, and one with the entire company.
Though the presentations were fairly similar, we tailored them slightly to maximize the impact for each audience: leaving more room for feedback with the Inclusion Committee, discussion with the leadership team, and higher level Q+A with the whole company.
Finally, as has been a theme throughout this article, it can be hard to find time to implement changes based on findings. However, it’s important that you don’t run internal research just for the sake of running internal research.
Give yourself the time to develop initiatives and implement changes based on the findings of your research. Doing so will help you keep your promises to your participants, show them that internal research has power, their voice has power, and, hopefully, help you and your team grow together.
Nathan is a Research Specialist at dscout, where he spends most of his time analyzing data and running international research for dscout's customers.
At dscout, he loves working on a wide range of research projects and bringing the voice of the scout panel to customers. Outside of dscout, he loves cooking, reading, listening to music, and spending quality time with his friends and family.