How to lead a research session outside of the office? The guide step by step and checklists.

9 September 2019
Alicja Skalna
How to lead a research session outside of the office? The guide step by step and checklists.
If the research is or will be an element of the design process in your company, sooner or later you will be faced with the challenge of leading research sessions in the field, outside the comforts of an office. As researchers and designers, we should reach where are potential users are.

In Mobee Dick we adopted a remote work model. We have scattered teams working in multiple cities, which helps us quickly answer the exorbitant demands of participant recruitment. Moreover, we can easily arrange the situation, when our clients, in the context of research, meet with their customers. That translates to real business benefits.

During the last 12 months, our research-design team conducted multiple field research sessions in a couple of Polish cities. Let’s assume that your organization is also faced with the task to organize the studies outside of the office, or even outside of your city. Regardless of how well the collaboration is going so far, now it is you as a researcher who will travel across the country armed with a laptop and study script and is responsible for the results. This short guide will allow you to verify how prepared you are.

Planning

Most of all, do not be afraid that a precise list of steps will kill spontaneity and creativity. In opposite, having a solid base allows you to focus on what is crucial.

Choice of place

Before you start looking for coffee spots on Google Maps, think what is the character of research and what do you want to achieve. Who are you recruiting, what is the topic of a study, what will you be asking about? Are you planning on additional activities (e.g., card sorting), will you need more space? Will your participant drive or use public transport? Preparing for a study with a group of students you probably want to choose a different site than for mothers with small children.

It is not always possible, but it is worth visiting the place before the study, especially if you plan to have more than one session in a named place. Your final decision might be affected by the layout of a place or number of power outlets. It is good to look at a museum or library coffee shop, as they guarantee silence and calm atmosphere. If you require more privacy, look at the co-working spaces. If you decide on a public space, a reservation of a table is a must-have. It is recommended to ask the owner if they don’t mind our activities and take care of a recompensation for a longer time spent there.

  • Choose a place according to the character of a study - set the time and add a calendar event
  • Check the availability of parking spots and public transportation in the area or a selected place
  • Check the place personally or by phone (opening hours, reviews or at least photos online)
  • Be aware of place conditions: table layout, ordering of food and beverages, power access, and wifi.
  • Make a reservation

Formalities

The participants are informed about the conditions and formal requirements of a study during a recruiting phase, but it is you before the session who hands them appropriate forms to sign. Make sure they are in order, segregate then accordingly. Prepare the spare copies - coffee always spills on the single copy of a RODO clause... If you plan for monetary compensation for study participants, make sure that you have a designated sum for each person. Finally, your notes should have email addresses and phone numbers to all engaged, decision-making people and participants.

  • Print adequate forms and documents
  • Store the compensation for the participant in save place
  • Save contact information to the person responsible for research on the client’s site
  • Save contact information to all participants
  • Prepare the budget for meals and beverages

Getting there and accommodation

If accommodation is necessary, pay attention to the time needed to get from the hotel to the chosen place for a study. Be a realist - Monday morning, outside of season time in a small city - don’t hope for Uber.

  • Verify, what is the distance from the hotel to the designated study place
  • Check, what is the best way to get around in the city of study ( taxi, Uber, public transportation)

Travel Tool Kit for a researcher

Your comfort and flow of research depend on what you take with you. How to find a balance between too many things and a risk of forgetting something important? Answer yourself what type of study it is, what is in the script and how many sessions are planned. With time you will create your tool kit, dedicated to your needs, but beware! It is better to carry then to ask.

Selected elements of research accouterments

  • Take laptop and phone
  • Pack devices for testing with needed applications installed - it is worth checking how they perform outside of office wifi
  • You must have two recording devices- it is an aspect that many write about, but sometimes it is hard to resist the thought that “phone is enough”
  • Take chargers and make sure all devices are fully charged before the study
  • Check if you have enough space available on all the devices
  • Ensure the access to the internet- the local wifi is not always reliable, it is best to be independent
  • Print and pack the study script
  • Prepare the template for notes, best in the form of online document (I recommend to take advantage of the offline editing plugins) - taking notes in that kind of documents significantly expedites analyzing the materials
  • Take all the necessary items for the session. If you plan additional tasks, take printed sets of exercises and accessories: post-its, stickers, markers, scissors, etc. If you travel for research regularly it is good to have a company’s tool kit - at Mobee Dick we have a special suitcase;)
  • Toss in an extension cord - can save the day!
  • If you plan for professional photos, take a camera and tripod

A handy suitcase with a set of practical office supplies - our research team kit.

Put your mask first

The essential point of the program, which often gets forgotten in a rush of preparation, is taking care of yourself. Creatively and in full capacity, we are only able to work around 5 hours a day. While planning a study marathon, we should take into account the breaks for regeneration, meals as well as a summary of work results.

  • Schedule the study with at least half an hour breaks between sessions and one longer one (an hour minimum). Avoid combining more than 2 sessions in the row.
  • Check where in the area you can find some food, where you can quickly get something tasty:)

At the day of study

Before meeting

  • Make sure to communicate with the client and the team what is happening, even if everything goes according to the plan
  • Make sure you can contact the participants - be always ready to call them.
  • In crises, react and be ready to take initiative. Be flexible and creative – an efficient communication with your PM or client will help to quickly make the right decisions. Unfortunately, an absence of participants without prior notice is not as rare as you might think.

During meeting

The form of conversation is not especially different from the one in the office, but it is still worth remembering the basics rules of communication with participants.

  • Make sure to provide comfort and a sense of security for the participant. This is a priority. A good flow of a meeting increases the chance for better observations - so smile and offer the coffee:)
  • Evaluate, which questions from the script can be uncomfortable for the participant. Take into account that a participant might refuse to answer the questions, but realize that a lot depends on the way you navigate the conversation.
  • Observe the reactions of a participant. Be inquisitive, but respectful.
  • Don't forget to thank the participant for the dedicated time and ensure that their input has a great impact on the work.
  • Update on Slack about the state of study.

After the meeting

Your memory is elusive – immediately note the most important insights. Make use of a script and prioritize the observations – the more precise you do it now, the less time it will take later. The context of a place and situation can help you capture and interpret nuances, which you will forget in a couple of days.

  • Inform the appropriate people (PM, the client), how did it go. Even a brief update is a very good practice.
  • Archive the recordings and artifacts as soon as possible.

Summary

In Mobee Dick we work in interdisciplinary teams, combining research and design. It is the fastest and the cheapest way to deliver the product which meets the client and user expectations. However, it requires an efficient organization and immediate reactions to changes. With agile and fast-paced work the checklist serves as a crucial safety buffer – even seemingly tiny element can ruin the meticulously planned process.

Besides, as a fan of checklists, I recommend creating and using them in almost every situation. Ready checklist, dedicated to the above topic, you will find below in the PDF to download. Use it as an entry point and modify it according to your own needs. Let us know what are your experiences with field research. I wish you productive sessions and valuable insights!

dowload checklist >

Questions?
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