Why do you need an insight repository for user research?

  • Peter Parkes
    Peter Parkes
This was published before our pivot. Read our announcement

Insight repository

Louis Rosenfeld’s 2017 presentation Beyond User Research highlights three of the biggest user research challenges facing WeWork at the time:

  • Siloed research
  • Gaps in research memory
  • Reports instead of insights

Sound familiar?

You’re not alone. Through our own research, we’ve seen these problems come up over and over again in a wide variety of organisations, and we started building our first product, an insight repository for user research, in response.

First, let’s look at the problems in a bit more detail. At Qualdesk, we frame them in a slightly different way to Louis, and I’ve unpacked our version below:

1 Insights are impossible to search

  • Insights are usually stored and shared in the same medium, typically slide decks, text documents or emails. This is fine for sharing but terrible for storage and search.
  • As a result, search is largely manual and labour intensive – trawling through one or more of the categories of document above to try to find what you need.
  • Metadata is often also poor. For example, you often have to open the deck and look at the date on the first slide to see how old the information is.

2 The link between insight and action is often poorly documented

It results in situations like this:

This. Document everything. And do it in a sustainable, searchable way. I say this having trawled through 4 years worth of research on @GOVUKverify to unpick the reason for a design change. I found it, but it involved reading a lot of PowerPoints and viewing a lot of prototypes. https://t.co/BV8cdBTPf5

— Lorna Wall (@Lorna_Wall) June 12, 2018

Thanks to Caroline Jarrett at Effortmark for the link to this example

This isn’t a problem that’s solved by storing insights alone. Even if you have an insight repository and it’s easy to search, that doesn’t help you answer questions like “why did we design this page like this?”

3 Insights become stale and useless once they’re shared outside the team

Because of the way insights are communicated in decks, documents and emails, it’s almost impossible to update an insight. For someone outside of the team that generated the original insight, or when looking back on it in future, it’s difficult to know whether the insight is still relevant.

As a result, research is often duplicated – it’s easier to start again than to try to assess the validity of the knowledge you already have.

How do we solve these problems?

Imagine a workplace where every research request you receive takes into account what your organization already knows. Product teams have the answers to common UX questions at their fingertips, and finding insights has become second nature to everyone. You rarely wonder whether the insights you find are still true because other researchers are always adding new evidence that supports them.

Sound good?

This is from the Microsoft Design team in a post about its internal and custom-built insight repository.

At Qualdesk, we believe that this sort of tool should be accessible to organisations of all sizes, and that’s part of the reason why we’re building Qualdesk Insights. But we’re interested in insight repositories more broadly – whether internal, like the Microsoft example, or hosted using third party software.

Some of the examples we’ve seen in our own research are simple spreadsheets, and others much more elaborate. And some are more successful than others.

What makes an insight repository succeed?

Through our research, we’ve identified three criteria that define successful insight repositories:

A A successful insight repository should make storing, searching and sharing insights equally easy

Insight repository

You could use a conventional database or a spreadsheet to store your insights, but while this might be a good way to store and search insights if you’re a researcher, it isn’t a great medium for sharing them with people outside of your team.

For example, if you have to make a slide deck every time you want to share some insights, this generates a lot of extra work, and tends to result in people neglecting the database (important, but not urgent) and just making the (urgent) decks instead.

B A successful insight repository should make it easy to store context, evidence, decisions and recommendations alongside insights

Insight molecule

You could store your insights in one place and keep track of decisions and recommendations in another – for example, your product management system like Trello, JIRA or productboard – we believe that this risks the link between insight and action being lost. We’ll dig into this more in a future post, but for now:

  • Without seeing context and evidence alongside the insight, it’s difficult to a) remember where an insight came from, b) trust it if you’re new to the subject area or c) make adjustments to the insight when you discover new information
  • If decisions and recommendations aren’t stored alongside an insight, it’s difficult to trace them back to the underlying insight to understand the motivation for a particular course of action

C A successful insight repository should be available to everyone who needs access

This may seem obvious, but unless the insight repository is available to everyone who needs access and easy enough to use, researchers will always end up transferring data out of the repository into other formats and platforms – for example, by making a slide deck as in the example above. This results in stale data and detaches the insights in the deck from the source of truth.

If, on the other hand, the researcher can send a link to an insight directly from the repository to a colleague, vendor or partner, this means that this connection is preserved.

It also encourages people from across the organisation to explore insights by themselves. As Matt Duignan from Microsoft says, “fostering a culture of engagement within and beyond the research community” is hard, but making insight universally available is an important first step.

In future posts, we’re going to talk more about our work on Qualdesk Insights, as well as the nature of user insights themselves – what they look like, what they need to be able to do, and how they can be stored, searched and shared simply and effectively.

But for now, if you’re creating or thinking about creating an insight repository for your team – or if you already have one – we’d love to hear from you. Thanks to all of you who’ve already participated in our research, and to members of the research repositories group within the Re+Ops Slack community for their advice and input.

And if you’re interested in learning more about Qualdesk Insights, you can find out more about what it can do here.