Operationalising Research – How ResearchOps can help

User and design research at scale brings with it overwhelming complexity. ResearchOps is a nascent profession emerging in response to a life lived at scale.

In 2018, the ResearchOPs Community was started by founder Kate Towsey. Now led by a 13 strong board, the community has undertaken 2 global projects to better define the profession and the community itself. Join Brigette Metzler and Benson Low as they take you through a map of ResearchOps and the 8 pillars that define the connection between research and operations, and guide the work of the community. They will take you on a deep dive into the Researcher Skills project that recently concluded, and give a hint as to what is to come for the community.

We’ll Cover:

  1. What is ResearchOps?
  2. What is the ResearchOps community?
  3. The 8 pillars connecting research & Ops
  4. Researcher Skills framework
  5. New work moving through the pillars- research repos, tools and templates, and more

More information about the ResearchOps Community can be found at: https//researchops.community

Slides for this talk can be accessed here: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1chSBCntQqM-_MOd7SKwjt0goAGgTLYGgtvPwswq3-bU/edit?usp=sharing

 

(upbeat music) (audience applauds) – So, good afternoon.

Thank you so much for coming.

We are the last talk before lunch, so we are, it’s a whistle-stop tour.

I hope you’re all ready and hopefully tummies aren’t too rumbly.

So, good afternoon.

Before we talk about ResearchOps, we’d like to tell you a story.

It’s a story of a global community, of people from 62 countries and counting.

But first of all, actually, because we are a community and respect for country is so important to us, we would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet today.

The Gadigal¬†of the Eora Nation, I’d like to personally pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging from the Mouheneenner people of the Palawa Nation, the land on which I’m lucky enough to live. – I would like to thank the place I come from for a moment.

So, I’m the chair of the ResearchOps Community. – I’m one of the members of the ReOps community. Before we get into the talk, I would love for people to raise their hands if they’ve ever done research.

Excellent, we’re talking to people in the right room. – In the right room.

– Keep your hands up, if you’ve heard of ResearchOps. (Brigette vocalises) Keep your hands up again if you have dedicated people as ResearchOps, supporting you running research, or if you are a ResearchOps person.

And there’s a few, excellent.

So, this talk is for those of you, essentially this room, but especially those within the ResearchOps. Brigette.

– [Brigette] So, but first it’s a story of global collaboration, as I said, and exploration. Shaping a new practise and making lots of new friends. So, on that note, we are going to tell you what ResearchOps is.

– [Benson] I’m gonna talk about the community. – [Brigette] I’m gonna talk about the eight pillars that connects research and operations.

– [Benson] I’ll share the recent global project that we did on research skills.

– And I’m gonna talk to you about our new and upcoming projects.

So, that is a lot, as I said, it’s a whistle-stop tour. I hope you are strapped in and ready to go. Remember we are happy to answer questions later and we have a whole community of like, three and a half thousand people who are ready to answer questions anytime.

So, first of all, what is ResearchOps anyway? So, when I first joined the community in March, 2018, I was doing an Ops role, but I didn’t know it at the time. One of my biggest challenges was actually convincing researchers that they were being asked to do too much, and that they deserved help.

As a researcher myself, I know that the magic of user research and all of that, qualitative research takes time and mental space. It’s not an action of data collection.

It’s the thought and time given to understanding what’s observed that matters.

I could see that research was happening at scale, and researchers are being asked to do more and more with less and less time.

So, the message here is that, that pressure that you all feel to get everything done, that’s real, and we’re here to help you to do your best work.

So, ResearchOps is all about creating sustainable processes and flows.

It’s a little bit like all of the talks that have come through this morning.

It’s about creating a flow to keep to the rhythm of business and the melody of research.

That all sounds kind of poetic, but actually ResearchOps just provides the nitty-gritty, the stuff that makes it all happen.

So, where did we come up with this definition of what ResearchOps is? Well, we didn’t actually like, make it up.

The ResearchOps community came together to this definition after running a survey, and also 33 global workshops across the world last year. So, we did it in 17 countries.

It was a huge undertaking, and we’ve actually replicated it twice since then. We really are very passionate about ResearchOps and we love helping researchers do their best work. So together, across all of those workshops, and around 1200 data points, we arrived at a map for research operations. While I was lucky enough to coordinate for Australia and then later analyse the global data itself, I am actually talking on behalf of the community. It’s a whole bunch of people, organisers who gave their time and effort to the project. So, it works differently for different organisations. But the framework can help sort of map out what could be done by ResearchOps specialists or a team. And after a couple of years actually of working in a team just like this, I can confirm that in my world, at least, the work that we do here, has actually played out exactly the same in my real life.

So, as a researcher, I find that very validating. – Great. – So, Benson.

– Yeah, I’m gonna talk about the community. So as we mentioned earlier, today we’re representing over 3000 researchers, the people that do research in our community. We come together to shape an emergent profession of ResearchOps.

In March last year, Kate Towsey sent out a Tweet about starting a Slack channel.

It was the beginning of a global adventure. This Tweet just didn’t appear out of thin air, however. She’s been working on ResearchOp related stuff for more than half a decade, and I think that some of us have been probably doing that as well.

She thought she was the only one of a few geeks in the world who cared about setting up systems to support researchers.

There are many more people who felt the same. I was one of those, Brigette was one of those. So, when Kate first started a community, the aim was to give shape and to validate research operations, AKA ResearchOps. This is really hard stuff; it’s very important to acknowledge this.

– [Brigette] That’s the button it didn’t like. – That’s right. – Okay.

– So, while Kate actually stepped away from the community, late 2018, to focus on other projects, the community kept on going.

So, we continued to grow the community, and strengthen our understanding of the emergent practise of ResearchOps.

Both of the groups, organisers, and running the community. We have Brigette here with us.

And Holly Cole as co-chair of the community. And 11 directors to direct attention to different aspects of the community that never sleeps. We continue to move our understanding of this practise forward.

Many of the Cheese Board actually are researchers, although we would all think of ourselves as ResearchOps practitioners.

We also have dedicated ReOps professions.

It’s actually really great to see professions emerging out of this real need.

We aren’t alone; let’s take a closer look at the community itself.

So, you can see on this chart here, we are really busy. They post questions all of the time, day and night. Community Slack, the community within Slack, often is found in places, if you’ve been to quite a few, that only occasionally post, once in a while. And it’s a bit of a void.

As you can see here, the top line, representing active users, are sitting around 1.2 thousand people per week.

A lot of people are talking part and post questions getting to know each other. There’s a number of growing.

The number’s only growing so when we see this stack slack slack stats you might think it’s pretty low but the reality is large communities tend to you only have about 50 or so people to communicate.

Our community is holding around two to three hundred unique users per week.

Through the communities initiatives such as ReOps pair connect we are actively building real life connections too.

We are intentionally building this as a safe place to learn grow and validate the profession of ReOps and support as only Ops can for researchers. So who are we we? We are actually 62 countries of Ops.

We are sending over 140,000 messages over 100 active channels, and our two channel’s actually more popular than the intro channel with over 3000 posted messages so far with research repositories and recruitment close behind. We’re quite literally the community that never sleeps, day or night, and with all this activities you might wonder how we actually form and organise ourselves to support and help researchers do the best work. Brigitte was gonna share about the eight pillars. – Thanks, Benson.

All right, so the eight pillars.

Who here’s heard of the eight pillars? Anyone at all? (vocalises) Hello.

So the eight pillars came about sort of late last year we were doing the researcher skills global work and as a board we were wrestling with how much are we research and how much are we Ops? And does it really matter? And what is this relationship between research and Ops anyway? And so, when we actually, so Emma Bolton and Tim Omee and Holly and I got together on a call and we realised actually that the answer was right in front of us all along.

The answer was to be found in the surveys and the workshops that we had done for the What is ResearchOps work. We realised that actually we all face a lot of common challenges and you can see them there. So these are the eight areas that we heard about. And what we then set about doing was actually understanding what is the stuff that connects research and operations? So in the environment this is the stuff, what I’m gonna talk about now is the stuff that is important to researchers and then I’m gonna show you how it works for Ops. So what you’ve got there is the environment, what’s you know, it’s at one of our biggest challenges. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to answer the question what is the value of user research? (chuckles) Why does it matter? Who engages with what I do? Why does research happen in the first place? Then there’s scope, so how and when does research happen? What are the methods that are use? What’s covered, you know the nuts and bolts of it all. Then you’ve got the actual people themselves so the researchers might, the research might be done by designers or product managers; it’s not only done by researchers, so how can we create a community of practise to support and mature the craft? What is the career path look like for a researcher? Then you’ve got organisational context; it’s a massive thing.

what’s the maturity level of the organisation I work in? And I know we were talking maturity levels just before, thank you very much, Aaron, and that’s actually something that we have incorporated into every project we’ve done in the ResearchOps community because we have a feeling, I think it’s pretty strong one, that organisational maturity is the key to understanding when ResearchOps comes in. So I will talk about that a bit later on.

But the other things, what are the external constraints that affect me: budget, resources, time, space, all that stuff.

Recruitment and admin, you can sort of see as we get towards the other end that it’s becoming more and more Ops. So how do I manage the logistics and admin for research projects and participants? The next one, absolutely dear to my heart because it’s what I live and breath.

I have accidentally become a librarian of a very particular kind in the past couple of years. So research libraries, how do I manage my research? How do I make sure that those valuable insights aren’t lost over time as we grow and change? Then governance, not my favourite thing but also the thing that I live and breathe every day, which is governance across the lifecycle of research. Things like consent forms, GDPR, ethics, all that sort of stuff.

Tools and infrastructure, so what tools and infrastructure do I need to help me with my research? It all makes sense right? But it’s an awful lot.

This is all the stuff you have to manage before you’ve even gone and done any research. So ResearchOps can help.

When we bring in a layer of operations and we level up some of that Ops stuff up to an Ops specialist, you start to take the pressure off the researcher and allow them to go and do that best work that we want them to do. And that fundamentally is what it’s all about. So how do you actually get started with that stuff? So you’ll know maybe, if you follow any of us on Twitter, that one of the things that we’ve been you know, tossing up over the past 18 months is when does ResearchOps happen? And like, am I doing research operations? Can I call myself a ReOp specialist? Is ResearchOps only for big companies or large teams? Absolutely not; so it’s the hill that I will die on. (chuckles) For this community.

That we need, the Operations Specialist must be embedded with researchers because how else do you know your user? Right, you guys, you people are my users essentially. But research operations happens on a continuum. So it starts out getting organised, it moves to operationalizing and then it goes to fully blown Ops.

And look, I want to be really honest with you and say that fully blown Ops is a whole team, it’s not one person. So when does it happen? What you can see here, this is I’m just referencing, this is actually Emma Bolton’s work.

She’s done this for the community and so I’m just gonna give you a quick whistle-stop tour of that. Essentially she’s got this lovely little Venn diagram, we love a Venn diagram.

You’ve got people doing user research, who probably have research-operations people. And there’s this whole bunch of people in the middle who are use of researchers, who are doing operations. So also another design maturity model but a different one. So this one is Leah Bouly’s design maturity model. We did a whole bunch of work pulling out maturity models when we were doing this researcher skills work. And this is one we really liked.

So you can see again, very similar to the other ones, you’ve got five different levels.

You’ve got a level one down there, mostly people doing sort of UI design, not much research. Level two, a little bit of research.

Level three you’ve got quite a bit of research going on. Level four and level five is just all beautiful and amazing. So where does ResearchOps start happening? So by level two you’re getting to the point where you’re going, do I hire another researcher? Or am I gonna hire someone to help me operationalize? When you get to level three you really are definitely thinking that you’re gonna need to operationalize. If we lay Emma’s Venn diagram over the top of Leah’s diagram what you get is a bit of a vision for when you’re gonna start to bring in your operations team. So, sorry that was a bit fast, I could see so we can see people didn’t.

So we can see that Ops isn’t just for Ops people. It’s actually about supporting everyone doing research. Thinking of the broader community of people doing research and supporting them as well as your researchers. – Great. – How are we going for time?

– We will speed through this one.

So I want to talk about the researchers global project, skills project.

So starting last year in November, a group of ReOps volunteers, Dave Horan and Tomomi Sasaki set out to build a researcher-skills framework. It’s a simple goal, build tools for researchers that would help them assess their current progress, understand how to move forward with their skills in career. But in the months preceding that we ran a lot of stuff.

So December we did 16 researcher interviews with the research managers as well, collected 17 different frameworks; reading it, reviewing it, assessing it to making sure it’s relevant for future framework. By February this year we had workshops developed, coordinated test workshops, and also did a few test workshops in London as well.

After all that the initial framing, we started beta rounds of testing in March and our ReOps volunteers started to cry out for organisers. So ultimately the workshop aims to draw out natures of the researchers current work, the major challenges they face as professionals, and from an operational standpoint.

So by May this year we started the first round of the workshops.

Here’s a quick overview, this is a slide from the workshop itself.

So the workshop is available on a Github, workshop in a box. So a few people have ready started.

Brigette has used it for different purpose but absolutely works; like all of our work in our community it is reusable creative commons share-alike licence. So I’ll do a quick tour of this to our researchers skills workshop.

So part one, essentially of two parts, mapping out exploration; we are starting to ask the participants to actually map out their organisation instruction.

That’s really important because we need the context and then a timeline of a second activity where they map out a recent project they did to identify blind spots and setting a stage to reflect on what crafting skills they should apply in that work.

The relationship, especially the organisation one is very important because it exposes circles of influence and control, and also relationship flows, on flows on to the actual project and how they actually apply that skill.

(murmuring) Part two is, after that very important part, it’s a rating and reflection time.

So we started going through two worksheets about skills and mapping out here how they actually mapped out through the career as well.

So recent projects, researchers will sort out their rates of crafts and skills they’ve actually applied. Rated themselves in a series of soft skills spectra, and then zoomed out to a higher level and charted out a course of the career as informed by the skills and sensibility they use currently on day-to-day. This map asked participants who looked at the path, consider the current direction, and then project the head into a range of career possibilities.

So, between May and September this year these are all the cities that already conducted it. This is ones we did in Melbourne; there’s two workshops in Melbourne covering 220 researchers.

Between Macam, Kelly, and Kristin we had 20 research from organisers like Austria Post InZed, MyOps, Seek, and so forth.

So what we did ultimately across the community that ran this, there were 60 organisers conducting over 30 workshops across 20 plus cities around the world.

And that includes Sydney here, Melbourne and Perth, wrapping up in November and there’s over 300, sorry, 500 researchers and also people who do research, that participated.

So there’s a lot to be done still.

There’s a huge task to actually go through analysis and synthesis of the huge amount of data points that we collected.

But once we’ve actually done it we will develop and test the proposed skills framework.

And we will share that within the community and then test and iterate it with a broader group of researchers.

We’re planning to open source this and then share key insights and data by 2020. But this is not our only global project.

Brigette will share the upcoming ones.

– Yeah, well I kind of, (mumbles) We’re very passionate.

We’re very passionate people.

So our community aims for 2019 where to promote and explain ResearchOps.

To engender the development of the profession of ReserachOps.

It’s lovely to me to see so many people put their hands up when they know what ResearchOps is.

That’s great, we’re doing good job.

Our aims for 2020.

So we have started a new project which is research repositories.

Because the communities are like a fairly unique global thing, we realised that we actually have a vehicle for working together.

And that means so that we’re working on more and more global projects.

We really love researching researchers.

So also myself, Nishita Gill, Andrew Maier and the rest of the Cheese Board have worked hard since June, 2018 to pull together a ResearchOps website.

I cannot tell you how hard it is to get a group of 3,000 designers and researchers to agree on what a website should look like.

(chuckles) We did it! So we recently launched.

And on that site we have a bunch of resources for ResearchOps people and that’s what we’re gonna be continuing to develop over 2020.

I’m not sure if it’s okay to say here but we have also recently partnered with UX Insights. And so we will have a ResearchOps conference at UX Insights in Amsterdam in April, 2020.

So that’s an awful lot for a group of volunteers. It’s very inspiring to me.

So, oh wow, I’ve done well.

If you would like to join us, please do.

You can sign up for the wait list via the website, https://researchops.community, nice and simple. You can join us on Twitter, LinkedIn, we have a LinkedIn community.

You can read about ResearchOps via our media publication. And just come join the conversation.

– Thank you. – That’s it.

(audience applauds) (upbeat music)

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