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7 Ways to Ensure Your Research Insights are Heard and Acted Upon

If your insights are shared in a report, but no one is there to read it, does it even make a sound? Use these tactics to guarantee your findings are met with “wows” and action instead of “huhs?” and “mehs.” 

A few big, not uncommon frustrations for user researchers: you conduct research that then sits in a corner, collecting dust. Or, people do read and talk about your research, but don’t have the resources or understanding to bring those insights into the company. 

The entire point of research is to be acted upon, so when that isn’t happening, it’s pretty disheartening. Getting research insights to “happen” is an essential skill.  

At the first company I worked for, I had no idea how to make sure my work was utilized. That resulted in me constantly trying to convince others to read this report or listen to that audio clip. It was frustrating, and it started to feel like the primary responsibility of my role was chasing people down and begging them to listen to me. 

The entire point of research is to be acted upon, so when that isn’t happening, it’s pretty disheartening. Getting research insights to “happen” is an essential skill.

In fact, it didn’t just feel that way, it was that way. 

I wrote a fairly static report that reiterated what I had learned during the research interviews, sent it out, and crossed my fingers that my colleagues would read it. There wasn’t much in terms of action, excitement, examples, or fun. 

Since then, I’ve learned a lot about this area of the job, and have brainstormed several ways to combat these situations. 

But before we break down tactics—we should dive into what makes research findings, in and of themselves, worthy of action.

Making your research insights actionable:

You hear a lot about “returning actionable insights.” It is an important part of almost every user research article, job posting, conference, and presentation. But what does this actually mean? 

First, you have to define what an insight is. To me, an insight is a piece of information that can move the product forward. This doesn’t mean regurgitating exactly what a user says but, instead, seeing an abstract opportunity for improvement, making it tangible through action and creating concrete ideas around that. It’s a small nugget of information that could lead to a positive change in the product roadmap or company vision.  

Every single time I write or assign an insight, there are three different questions I ask myself in order to ensure the insight is truly actionable:

  1. What is happening?
  2. Why is it happening?
  3. What can someone do with this research information?

Most insights easily answer the first question, but stop there. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to take action when you just know the “what.” When we understand why something is happening, it is much easier to determine clear and confident actions to take in response to the information. 

Here’s a simple example, from a ticket comparison website:

The user said: “It is really annoying that I always have to select the type of transportation method I want when I search. It feels like they should be saved, or something.”

A semi-actionable insight: users are frustrated that their searches aren’t saved for their next session.

An actionable Insight: users are having to repeatedly pick transportation methods when they perform their search, even though they are always looking for and picking the same transportation methods. This occurs because we don’t currently support saving any type of repeated actions for the user, such as preferences, in order to reduce friction and time spent before searching.

What could the team do with this information? A good amount. Not only does this insight touch upon user activity in this specific booking situation—it brings up the larger idea of saving repeated actions. 

Therefore, the team could look into saving preferences—both for transportation methods, and any other repetitive actions that could be saved. This could possibly generate a more robust account page. 

All this is to say: the user wants to save their transportation method, but that isn’t the job of a user researcher. We are there to point teams toward the deeper nugget that propels the product forward in a broader perspective. The kinds of insights that we unearth and the way we do the “pointing” goes a long way toward ensuring our colleagues act on our findings effectively. 

Ensuring those actionable insights don’t go to waste: 

1. Use the same tools that your colleagues are using. 

Maybe you find yourself with a backlog of user research insights and recommendations for teams to work on. If you’re like me, they’re probably housed in various products—like Google Sheets and Slides, and on Slack. Ask yourself: are your teammates using those same tools? In my case, product and tech were actively using different systems to sort out their backlog, roadmap, and tickets.

I wasn’t a huge fan of their tools, so I did my best to avoid using them. But after a few weeks, I gave in and started housing user research insights where other teams were already working. I tagged my “research insight backlog” in a similar way that the team tags their backlog. It was a game-changer—and it helped my colleagues link insights to current tickets. It created visibility and action.

2. When writing a report, cater it to your audience.

You have to actively understand how different people in your organization ingest research, especially the ones that can use the recommendations and insights. I always talk to product owners/managers, developers, marketing, customer support and designers to unravel how they would like to see user research results displayed. I then go ahead and create several different “reports” catering to their needs. For instance, product owners and designers tend to really like screenshots with clear indications of problems, and accompanying video/audio clips. Marketing is more interested in quotes and mental models.

You have to actively understand how different people in your organization ingest research, especially the ones that can use the recommendations and insights.

3. Make user research insights fun.

We do a usability night, a user research review, and a quarterly opening night where we bring out some wine and cheese and allow anyone in the company who is interested to browse what we have discovered about our users thus far. User research doesn’t need to be only in a digital format, it can be brought to life through stories, videos and some creativity.

4. Make problem statements with clear, supporting evidence.

I used to be concerned about making recommendations based off of insights because I didn’t want people to think I knew everything—or that my research could definitely explain anything.

User researchers function as a sounding board. We are there to uncover questions and problems that need to be answered and solved. As researchers, we don’t have the answers to everything. Instead, we are supposed to show our teams the problems and work with them toward a user-oriented solution.

User researchers function as a sounding board. We are there to uncover questions and problems that need to be answered and solved. As researchers, we don’t have the answers to everything. Instead, we are supposed to show our teams the problems, and work with them toward a user-oriented solution.

5. Share information everywhere. 

Slides, Sheets, Slack, Monday, Confluence. If there’s a tool your team actively uses, your research should be found there. I even print personas and post them on walls.

Unfortunately, companies (especially startups) tend to disseminate information through many different tools, as they are testing out different methods.  It is a lot of work, but it is important to make the information as accessible as possible to everyone.

6. Actually stand up and present your findings. 

Like all things, it is much easier to write a report and send it out than it is to put together a meeting, create a presentation, and stand in front of your colleagues with your learnings. However, this is a crucial step in the process. Before, I was sending out summaries and reports, while only occasionally presenting my work. Now, I do my best to put together a fun lunch & learn, with audio clips and videos of my research sessions, so people can watch while they eat, and I can explain the insights and how we can put them into action.

7. Host a workshop. 

This is the best way I have found to get people involved, excited and action-oriented. After I have completed a number of user research sessions, I conduct a synthesis workshop, in which I invite the relevant product and tech teams to review and make sense of the recent research findings. Not only does this encourage colleagues to read your reports, but it also makes them pay attention to the details and motivates them to enact the insights.  

User research is really a team sport, so make sure to support and understand the perspectives of the people you are working with. It takes time for user research to get integrated into a team’s mindset and process. Usually, it takes six months for me to see the tangible impact of my work, so patience and empathy for colleagues are key.

Nikki Anderson

Nikki Anderson is a qualitative user experience researcher with about 5 years in the field. She loves solving human problems and petting all the dogs. Read more of her work on Medium.

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