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Two pivotal human-centered approaches for repository planning

23 March 2022
Lisa NguyenDr. Emily DiLeo

What does it take to ensure your research repository’s success? Beyond the obvious topics to address like tooling, tagging, and taxonomies, you must also account for people- and behavior-based approaches. For example, a well-planned internal research study is essential, as well as an understanding of how your organization practices knowledge management. These human-centered, organizational tasks are pivotal and can unlock potential not just for your repository but also for your research practice.

Break down silos with internal research

One of the most common concerns in product organizations is the presence of silos. Silos are problematic because they stifle communication between teams, which results in huge inefficiencies and a lack of innovation. A research repository can and should address the problem of siloed work. So naturally, you’ll want to think broadly about who your stakeholders will be when implementing a repository. 

You should begin your repository initiative with internal research. Talk to all of your stakeholders—not just producers of research but consumers of research as well. This will likely include cross-functional teams as well as product managers and designers. Can these folks identify the need for a repository? Does their reasoning match up with your own? Make sure that you’re checking in with your bias on the regular. Be sure you’re not imposing your own desires for a repository onto your research with others (who may not feel the same urgency as you).

Start creating a more targeted approach as you begin to take the temperature of the research culture around you. Are you able to identify the early adopters of your repository? If so, bring them onto your repository team to help champion the cause. 

Be sure to bring your findings back to the research teams—be transparent about your research process. This will help build trust and open up conversations about people’s concerns. This process will also help you devise a communication plan. What will be the most effective way to communicate your progress as you begin the implementation of a repository?

Determining the appetite for a repository and identifying internal requirements is a lot of work. There will be difficult conversations that may shift your focus and present roadblocks. But stay focused and don’t be tempted to skimp on your internal research—the success of your repository depends on it.

Research repositories are the way of the future.

Three unexpected ways a research repository makes your life easier

Knowledge management is your secret sauce

Building and managing a repository requires knowledge management skills that help you create, share, and manage knowledge efficiently within an organization. For repositories, knowledge management activities include creating naming conventions, templates, and taxonomies to improve identification, organization, and findability. The more people who are on board with the activities, the better. It’s worth thinking about how you can create an awareness of (and hopefully implement!) these skills in your organization.

Let me give an example. Say you’re working on a research study with your team. You have a shared workspace where you store documents—but folks don’t always use it. Your shared workspace probably contains “mystery documents” of questionable origin and unknown purpose. Maybe the file names aren’t descriptive, and it takes a while to find what you’re looking for. Maybe a new team member goes into the workspace to get a sense of what a current project looks like—they open a document or two, but have no idea what they’re looking at. Here are some tips:

  1. Put everything into one shared space. And I mean everything. Add links to boards and other tools. In my experience, you’ll have to keep reminding people to put their working documents in that one space. Just remember this archivist’s creed: “Everyone should know where everything is, all of the time.”

  2. Create some best practices around file naming and use a “notes” or “description” field if you can (you can usually find this field next to “date” and “created by”). Most tools have a way to enter descriptive information into the organizational structure—use this feature! The goal is to look at the list of documents and know exactly what they are and what they were used for.

  3. Add descriptions into the document. Write in a “this document was created to …” at the top of each document. When your teammates look at the document six months from now, they will know why it was created.

Surprise! You’ve created the story of your research project.

A little-known benefit of establishing some knowledge management behaviors is that you create a story. Or rather, a history. When you look at a list of well-named, identifiable documents, you can make sense of a timeline. Maybe you see some gaps or lessons learned. 

The stories behind research studies are not captured in reports, yet these stories contain incredibly valuable learnings. An approach that didn’t work and was abandoned. A roadblock that others may run into. A way of working that was problematic. These are the learnings that can help elevate research at your organization by informing strategic research planning.

One way to capture research stories could be a structured debrief after a project is complete. The research team is asked to discuss a set of questions (e.g., was this study successful? Were there blockers? What were they?). You can capture the debrief on video—a light-lift method that would also document the nuances of the discussion. These videos would then be available to the research team to review as they take on new research studies and projects.

If researchers can see the paths that have already been traversed, then they can create new ones—rather than retracing their steps.

Written by Dr. Emily DiLeo, Research Repository Specialist. Dr. Emily DiLeo is an ethnomusicologist and archivist working in UXR. She brings a deep understanding of ethnographic practice to user research and leverages archival practice to create efficiencies and impact.

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