Why you should engage stakeholders in the research process

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Why buy-in matters

One of the themes emerging from user research we’re conducting on behalf of a healthcare company is a lack of buy-in from some key users. We know that all individuals involved believe that patient safety is paramount. And we know the program, when implemented successfully, helps improve patient outcomes. Yet, that critical buy-in needed to drive participation is lacking.

This got me thinking about how buy-in plays a role in organizations where the benefits of an initiative seem clear, but that critical element of buy-in from key individuals is waning or missing entirely. We’ve seen it ourselves over the years, in previous career roles, and we’ve heard it from colleagues who are frustrated by a lack of buy-in not to the concept of UX research, but to the specific insights that research uncovers. It’s frustrating to hear things like “So I hear what you’re saying, but we’re going to do ‘this’ instead.”

Stakeholders are more likely to understand and act on information if they value what’s shared with them. As in the case with our healthcare users—this is not any easy task. It takes time, it takes patience, and it also takes a little finesse.

Think of the last time you made a major purchase decision—maybe it was a car or a house. Did you rely solely on the salesperson or the realtor’s expertise to present you with the best option for you to make your life-changing decision? Of course not. You likely relied on them to guide you through the process, to highlight areas of importance as you examined your options, and to remind you to focus when you’re blinded by the flashy finishes that detract from the more important, and sometimes deal-breaking, details. (At least you hope they’ll put your needs first for the sake of long-term gains but that’s another discussion all together).

That’s what we do as UX researchers. We’re not user experts, we’re the experts in the process. We guide stakeholders through the process of understanding their users, highlighting best practices, and helping them understand and internalize research insights so they can make smarter, more informed decisions that enable great user experiences. Stakeholders need to be involved in the research process in order to achieve that kind of buy-in.

Putting insight into action

It’s not a big stretch for most UX professionals to see that including stakeholders in research is to their benefit. Actually embracing it as a philosophy and putting it into practice is quite another. So far, we’ve covered the ‘Why’ of engaging stakeholders in the research process. Here are the other ‘W’s’ that we consider when determining how to include stakeholders in our research:

Who needs to be involved?

  • Identify the stakeholders that will have decision making power to act on research insights.
  • If you’re not directly involved in implementing research insights, make sure you have a champion(s) who you can help to communicate and reinforce those insights to business stakeholders, designers and developers alike.
  • Understand their roles and needs so that you can plan their involvement effectively.

What or how should they be involved in research?

  • Understand your audience so you can involve stakeholders in a way that is accessible and makes the most sense for them.
  • Set expectations to mitigate stakeholder bias and build a team mentality.
  • Don’t assume those who don’t explicitly request involvement don’t want or need to play a role in research.

When do stakeholders need to be engaged?

  • Determining the frequency of involvement depends largely on the project, and the key stakeholders you’ve identified. Be flexible.
  • Above all, communicate to stakeholders clearly, concisely, and often.

But what about…?

Engaging stakeholders in research can also be a little scary. If you’re not prepared, it can feel like an exhausting exercise that leaves you drained and frustrated. For some, it can feel uncomfortable opening up to expose an unpolished work in progress for fear of:

  • stakeholders cherry picking individual data points without keeping in mind the bigger picture that’s coming into view.
  • stakeholders expecting to see/hear something ground-breaking or unexpected and dismissing the need for a full analysis of all data collected.
  • scrutiny of your skills as a facilitator, or your choice of research techniques or tools - especially if you’re new to a role or trying out something untested or new to you.

Creating a plan by answering the questions above can help you set aside these concerns to focus on long-term wins. We’ll cover these in more detail in upcoming blog posts.

Engaging stakeholders is an important skill to master as a UX professional. No matter the quality of research you or your team produce, it’s of little value without buy-in from the decision makers who help bring to life what could be.




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