Weeknotes SE02E05

View towards South Arm from Taroona Beach taken on one of my daily walks

It was another busy week in the lead up to some of the teams moving to private beta (see Jordan Hatch’s weeknotes for more on that), and to be honest, sitting here on a Sunday, going over what I did, and what we did, it really was a blur.

This week, I’ve decided to split up my weeknotes according to the 8 Pillars of User Research. As I flagged in my first weeknote of the year, it underpins how we choose to structure the work of research operations at DAWE and helps serve as a guide for ‘is this research, or operations?’. There are some aspects of ReOps where the ReOps Lead really needs to work absolutely side by side the Research Lead, so it can be hard to spot the line. It’s nice to have this to act as a blocker to scope creep, and at other times, provide a legitimising foundation to stand on.

What did you do?

Environment

This week, was a week of stakeholder engagement (as usual!) and working to remove people silos. Getting research teams together to discuss what they’re up to always generates lots of collaborations and breaks down silos. This week was no different. In addition to a Guild meeting, I got together with the Export Intelligence folks, we met with a group in the department that takes care of the meat commodity, and also talked to the folks looking after non-prescribed goods. Lots of follow up for the week to come.

Scope

I listened in on a couple of different research teams (outside my main set of research teams) as they wrestled with the usual conundrum of wanting to do deeper more contextual research than their scope allowed. I really want to provide better support on this side of things — it takes time, and an initial leap of faith to be able to start on something that doesn’t have an immediate, obvious return on investment, or to go deeper than the initial scoping set out. It is one of those tasks where ReOps provides support to the Research Lead, rather than being responsible for it. The primary function ReOps provides here is that bird’s eye view of a lot of the research being done across the department, an understanding of the context and use of different research methods, and an ability to make connections. I’d be interested to hear others’ take on this though — it is definitely one of those grey areas between research and operations.

Organisational context

I spent some time this week with the folks looking at measuring the effectiveness of the program of work we are doing, and our next steps. Communicating about the return on investment of human centredness isn’t necessarily numbers, and one of the things I will need to do as a part of our research on the knowledge management for the division, is interviewing all our users. One of those of course, is the measurement folks — if you think about the taxonomies either an insights repository or a library might need, you can think of it as a tree with several main branches. Getting the modelling right for those branches means that down the track, being able to connect the research to the changes made will make measuring impact all that much easier, so it is important to get that branch just right.

People

I did a little ResearchOps induction for a person in the department who is an emerging user researcher. She’s been an invaluable resource to me in helping me develop better relationships with people from all corners, and it’s been great to get started on making sure she also has access to the tools and information to do her job. She’s been pairing with senior researchers in other teams too, and I think that’s been fruitful for her and the other researchers too, as it works to break down silos and also build capability.

Recruitment and admin

Deciding the service of research recruitment. It feels like many irons in the fire on this one as we try to arrive at ways of working that work for all. At the moment, there’s good success in working with stakeholders and warm transfers, but this solution doesn’t scale, and a self-service model is on my mind, and that of the researchers. It was refreshing indeed to catch up with a colleague in the financial services industry during the week for a virtual coffee to find the pain points for her were the same as they are for us. Small numbers of potential participants, and an absolute conviction to work with people’s expertise in their own lived experience provides some interesting challenges.

Generally speaking, some common options are working with internal stakeholders to access participants, creating a panel, or hiring a vendor to manage participant recruitment, sometimes a combination of all three or two are used. On the surface, handing it all over to a vendor is tempting, as that passes the scaling problem onto someone else, and it feels as though all the running around is expensive, but there are tradeoffs, in terms of cost per participant, and also lost opportunities for connecting people, ‘evangelising’ (industry speak) user research, and cutting across silos. Not a decision to be taken lightly. Of course, we are doing while also deciding, hence the issues of scale.

Data and knowledge management

It was the week for data and knowledge management! Early in the week, I received an email from colleagues in government in New Zealand, as Rules As Code interest extends out across government over there, and starts to intersect with people working on human centred approaches to knowledge and information management. They were curious to hear of our approaches and challenges in the knowledge management space, and so we will get together soon to see what we might learn from each other.

I sat in a couple of meetings where everyone identified a major pain point — finding and making use of previous research. July is my time to start to make this my main focus, and that was certainly underlined by many people from many directions!

Late in the week, I had meetings with people working in developing vocabularies in the department, and we explored the current state of metadata management in the department. Lots of foundational work is being done by various teams across the department. It’s a huge task, and it’s wonderful indeed to see work we can utilise. It feels like we are all pulling in the same direction, and given the diverse areas we all came from, that’s an unexpected delight.

Governance

This week was noticing all the procedural governance work I still need to do. When can we do x, why would we decide y, how do we do z. We are making small but important changes to the way things get done (the stuff that really matters, I think), and that brings with it a bunch of questions. It takes time and focus to work through that stuff, no matter how much co-design you do on it. Times like these I notice my undergrad in policy actually helps! All very much on the to-do lists though. We did get a lot of the to-dos into ‘support tickets’ (thank you, Bill), and that will help us tick them off one-by-one.

Tools and infrastructure

We made some progress on interim approaches to tools access for researchers and designers, and it was a real joy to be able to say yes to several people all at once. Their smiling faces really brightened my day. Gaining access to tools in government is commonly a long process as there are many considerations and a lot of complexity. The intersection of NHMRC Guidelines, Privacy legislation, Records Management legislation, cyber security and data and information governance is often enough to deter the feint of heart. Having interim approval means we can get people working quickly, while we do the groundwork to deliver access to researchers and designers across the department. I think the Legal team are becoming my (and all our) best buddies as we work through all the foundational stuff that will remove friction on a more permanent basis. They’re amazing, working very hard across the whole program and have been so helpful and responsive. I look forward to continuing to work with them as we develop our research data governance and also work to make our consent forms more user friendly. Overall, huge kudos to the whole team.

What are you thinking about?

During the week, I did a little mentoring session (one of my 6am ‘office hours’ type things) about running communities. I always find those ‘tell me all the things’ type meetings really valuable for me in thinking through what is working and what is not. I reflect that one of the things that often gets forgotten when we decide to start a community or a group is being clear within yourself about your own why. Next is noticing your own biases when you lead a community. I find myself gravitating towards hierarchy, which I think comes from working in government. Leading the W+PSI with Thea Snow challenges me to think about that. I reflected through the week that the thing I think is most successful of all the the ReOps things I’ve done at DAWE thus far, is the one I don’t lead — the research guild. The next most important lesson I could convey comes from Priya Parker, and her book, The Art of the Gathering — be intentional about who you include and who you exclude. It feels counter intuitive, but being really clear about this one is respectful to the goals of a group, and helps immensely with creating safe spaces. Safety creates the conditions for change, and there’s nothing no work more impactful, nebulous, or hard.

Anything else?

One of our senior researchers, Dr Tracey Benson, told me this week about a passion project that looks pretty incredible, The Meeting of the Waters:
Locative Media Oceania
. It looks super interesting, and comes with some incredible speakers. It is rare to see doing cast alongside watching and listening, so I think it will be really interesting to see what comes from the project.

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researcher, counter of things, PhD student, public servant…into user research, information architecture, ontology, data. Intensely optimistic.

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Brigette Metzler

Brigette Metzler

researcher, counter of things, PhD student, public servant…into user research, information architecture, ontology, data. Intensely optimistic.

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