Weeknotes SE02E22

Photo of a swollen rivulet with water rushing. The scene is quite dark, it is obviously an overcast, rainy day. Around the rivulet are green trees with dark trunks. The picture is in sharp focus only on some leaves in the middle ground.

As with most of my weeknotes these days, these weeknotes are structured around the 8 Pillars of User Research — I use these to help me keep the scope of my role knowable, to me, and others. I use the Pace Layers Matrix to structure my research operations strategy in my everyday work.

What did you do?

Environment

The environment pillar is all about creating the right environment for research to happen. This past two weeks has been very busy for a number of people in my area , and in many ways, when work like that happens, it sets off ripples that can prove long term transformational — and not just in the piece of work that was being done. In the ResearchOps team, we were largely uninvolved, just providing quick access to tools needed to move at pace, but we’re looking forward to doing a retro with the team to understand if there were blockers we could have anticipated better, or ways of working that were uncovered that we might want to replicate.

Back in the normal day to day of the work, a lot happened in this space that is quite unnoticeable, but we now have the policies in place to support us as we move forward with working our systematic ways of gathering, storing, and sharing research. Such big, but quiet leaps 😊

Scope

As above — scope is about how we bring our research together — lots of quiet, slow, foundational work (bottom of the pace layers type stuff) has come together in the past few weeks. Watch this space!

Organisational context

Research participant experience was the hot topic of the fortnight for the ResearchOps team, and that has meant lots of communication across the department about how we can create better processes, and communicate — both broadly, and also about each individual research project the department is undertaking. Engaging with a small group of people means being aware of all the other ways others and times a person may be engaged on the same topic. It means forging deep connections internally and externally, and is a part of the big systemic work I talk about a lot in ReOps. Much progress made, but lots more to come.

People

It was a bit of a record in Induction terms this past week, with a total of 27 people going through a research and operations induction. Not all of these people were researchers, but were also people wanting to make better use of user research, and also to change their working practices to ensure user research is embedded as a part of that. That feels like good, long term change in the department, so that’s exciting. These small steps, over time, create big change, I think.

Recruitment and admin

This week, our Trade Reform Research Panel made it into the Austrade newsletter — many thanks to the wonderful team at Austrade, but huge thanks to Gabby for working so hard to achieve this, and so much more for us over the past few weeks.

This week we had a meeting with researchers from across the department, our finance policy team, and the wonderful legal team, to discuss research participant incentives. It is commonplace in government and in private industry to pay research participants a small amount to thank them for their time. We have the policies in place for knowing how to do it, we just lacked a consistent policy for when we should, and when we shouldn’t. We will get the researchers back together in coming weeks once we’ve received advice from the legal team.

Data and knowledge management

We are starting to see research outputs being sent to us more regularly, which is fantastic — this is in preparation for having a research library and somewhere to store them, find them, and make use of them again. We’ll be making a way for researchers to do this themselves, just as soon as we have a library and somewhere to add the research.

One of the critical factors in being able to have researchers self-serve in adding their research is the approvals template we provide to researchers to add to their work. The template covers all the approval information, and also provides us with an MVP of metadata to help the research be discoverable, findable, and searchable. This also ensures anyone seeing the artefact knows in perpetuity who did the work, why, how, when, and what they are allowed to do with it. In Australia, researchers are responsible under the NHMRC Statement on the ethical conduct in human research to make sure their work is shared with the right folks. The statement (element 4) actively supports the sharing and reuse of research data and research outputs. The approvals template is effectively their checklist on that.

Governance

We’re doing pretty well in this space at the moment — several write ups of policies to do, but all in all, just about all the governance we need to have in hand to be able to manage research across the whole research lifecycle, from planning, through to maintaining and reuse. Governance is long, slow work (understanding the complete context of your organisation is the bit that takes a while), so I’m happy that after 6 months, we have just about got this in hand.

Tools and infrastructure

There is quite a bit of work on the backlog that we need to schedule in the tools space. When researchers ask for tools, we don’t like to say no, but we do need to make a reasonable, informed decision that is right for the whole program. That means we have user research, product features analysis, governance, finance and privacy assessments to do on tools across the whole lifecycle of research, so that’s going to have to be bumped up the backlog soon!

What are you thinking about?

Recently, at work, the Tree of Up was mentioned as an effective way to communicate how products are developed, and that made me super happy, because I agree! Communicating what goes into product development, and visualising the dependencies and order something needs to be done is something we could easily pick up in research operations. ResearchOps is largely hidden work, and so this kind of visual appeals to me for making that hidden stuff explicit. I made a Tree of Ops back in May this year, and will be working on making it more accessible (and therefore impactful) in the future.

If you’re in the ResearchOps Community, you’ll know I’m more than a bit passionate about ‘hidden work’ and the value we ascribe to it. Last week, I published an article on change, the things that constrain us, and the threads that make up the fabric of how we are enabled or not to make decisions towards change. It is something I’ve been working on for the past four years as I (very slowly) work towards my PhD. I think given ResearchOps is so nascent, it is largely change work, as much as it picks up all the hidden work of researchers, and uses it to realise far greater impact than could have been had before. I used it to make an assessment of my own work the very next day. I’ve been using it just in my head for many years, but it was interesting to be deliberate and intentional about using it. Reflecting on that experience, it was a great way to create emotional space for me to think through the root of a problem, and work out how I might respond. It felt like significant personal progress for me. I hope it proves useful for you too.

Anything else?

I like to listen to podcasts while I walk, and this week, these two really lit some sparks in my mind:

First, was Priya Parker with Krista Tippett from OnBeing talking about remaking gathering in this post 2020 world. She mentioned the power of a facilitator lies in their ability to ‘protect, connect, and equalize the guests’ in that first 30 seconds. I do a lot of facilitating in my work and non-work lives, and so I’m keeping that one on a sticky note to remember each time.

The second was The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Greene (yes, Fault in our Stars John Greene. There are many of his I love, but this one was so tender, on Auld Lang Syne.

This part particularly got me:

In her strange and beautiful interactive memoir Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Amy wrote, “If one is generously contracted 80 years, that amounts to 29,220 days on Earth. Playing that out, how many times then, really, do I get to look at a tree? 12,395? There has to be an exact number. Let’s just say it is 12,395. Absolutely, that is a lot, but it is not infinite, and anything less than infinite seems too measly a number and is not satisfactory.”

In her writing, Amy often sought to reconcile the infinite nature of consciousness and love and yearning with the finite nature of the universe and all that inhabits it. Towards the end of Textbook, she wrote a multiple choice question: “In the alley, there is a bright pink flower peeking out through the asphalt. A. It looks like futility. B. It looks like hope.” Anyway, for me at least, Auld Lang Syne captures exactly what it feels like to see a bright pink flower peeking out through the asphalt, and how it feels to know you have 12,395 times to look at a tree.

We’re here because we’re here because we’re here. (you’ll just have to listen to the podcast!)

Til next week folks!

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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.