The Usefulness of User Research



It’s the new year! Resolutions are abundant and the energy for change is thriving in communities. NouLAB is of no exception – we are ready for the exciting and eventful year to come.

2015 was a big year for us; we designed and launched the lab, brought together innovative and diverse stakeholder teams around some six of New Brunswick’s most pressing challenges, and held our first three workshops on Problem Framing, Systems Mapping, and Prototyping.

We couldn’t be more pleased with the work our lab teams started last year and we think 2016 is going to be even bigger.    

On January 11, we held our first workshop of the year, and the first in a series of semi-monthly lab workshops to run from January until April. Led by MaRS Solutions Lab Associate, Vanessa Toye, the workshop on January 11 was designed to introduce lab teams to User Research – a way of gaining insight into a given system by intimately understanding people’s experiences in it.

After a short introduction to User Research methodology, lab participants were provided the opportunity to practice a variety of research tools, including:

Surveys – Used to collect information about how people think and act through question-based assessment.

Participant Observation – Used in qualitative research settings to gain an intimate acquaintance with a given group of people.

Empathy Maps – Used to understand emotional responses to interactions with people, organizations, and services within a system.

Journey Maps – Used to determine the true desires and needs of their people at different stages of an experience.

Persona Types – Used to represent the different and common personality types in a space.

Interviews – Used in a conversational setting to draw out facts or statements from an interviewee.

The objective of the workshop was to help lab participants understand how to employ certain tools depending on the type of information being sought. Ultimately, its purpose is to help the lab teams dig deeper.

Statistics often tell us what is happening in a system. User research data tells us more about the who. In order to understand the what statistics, we need to understand the personal stories behind them.

Teams finished off the day by identifying questions about their challenges they’d like to know more about. By combining the aforementioned tools, teams were able to more effectively visualize their respective steps moving forward into the early months of the new year.

What began as a question of how tackle New Brunswick’s most pressing social issues led to the creation of New Brunswick’s first social innovation lab in 2015. Last year saw us take our first few steps to building a smarter change process, and this year we plan to continue in that direction.  

2016 will be the year our teams leap to action. We hope you’ll stay tuned as NouLAB turns one!

Jake Wildman-Sisk