No researcher is an island: find your research heroes
Over ponder.
7 May 2023
Research can’t survive on its own. This article teaches you how to identify and partner up with internal advocates to help expand your research culture.
If you’re reading this article, you’re probably sold on the idea that research plays a critical role in understanding users and customers. 
But researchers cannot be impactful if they work in isolation. Their success depends on their integration into an organization. This integration occurs, first and foremost, through collaboration with non-research stakeholders. And this collaboration starts, in grander terms, with Research Heroes. 
Identifying and partnering with Research Heroes can be a powerful way to supercharge your research practice.
As a consultant, I regularly speak to people who have brought or are trying to set up a UX research practice in their organizations. After scores of these conversations, this is what I’ve learned:
I call them Research Heroes. Because of their dedication and perseverance, research has the champion it needs to make its start.
I’d like to introduce you to one of the first Research Heroes I met. Jeroen Mulder, former Head of Product Design at Mollie and currently Founder at First Follower, is one of those Research Heroes. A few years ago, he advocated for Mollie to hire their first UX researcher.
“Customers are our oxygen,” he said. “We’d better understand them well.”
Jeroen saw the challenge of getting research on board as broader than just headcount: he strove to enact a mindset shift, for example, by asking every decision maker: “How did you make this decision? Which insights did you use to assist you in your decision-making process?” He asks these questions as a means to highlight risk. If it’s not possible to mitigate risk with research, then at least stakeholders have acknowledged that before they proceed. 
Researchers: I know many of you are considering taking on a founding role in a company. My wish for you is to be hired by—or collaborate with—a Research Hero like Jeroen. 
Non-researchers: You might be looking forward to your organization bringing on their first researcher. My wish is for you to feel employed to reach out to them for what could be a life-changing collaboration. 
Let’s talk a bit more about who this Research Hero is—and strategies to get and keep them involved in the research process.
The Research Hero’s role in a fledgling research practice
When I was a founding Lead UX Researcher at a company new to the concept of a research practice, I met a data analyst during my first weeks on the job. She was “on the list” of must-meet stakeholders and was immediately keen to build a relationship between data analysts and researchers. 
Her enthusiasm planted the seeds of collaboration, and we began to approach challenges from both a quant and qual perspective.
I also remember the VP of Product Management carving out regular time for us to discuss our work in the bi-weekly PM meeting. He went beyond product and connected us across the organization, facilitating our contact with customers.
Without these individuals, our efforts to make research an impactful practice would have been slow.
How can you find the Research Heroes at your company? Let’s look at how to identify them:
Partnering with Research Heroes
Let’s say your research practice has a foothold in an organization. This is a big win: But the role of the Research Hero is not finished. 
Once you’ve identified them, here are some tips about how to partner with them:
  • Involve them in the research process. We’ve heard this time and again, but the more you include them, and the more they learn about what you do, the more they can evangelize your work to others. You know the drill: This could involve inviting them to participate in research sessions or providing them with access to research findings. 
  • Encourage them to vocalize their advocacy. These individuals can be powerful advocates for research within the organization. This could involve inviting them to speak at company-wide meetings or providing them with the resources they need to champion research in their teams.
Identifying and partnering with research heroes can be a powerful way to kick-start your research practice. And it can be extremely rewarding to see the results of these collaborations. For example, Megan Scheminske recently posted about the result of finding a PM advocate.
research hero linkedin (3)
Are you a Research Hero? Here are some ways to use your superpowers
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “Hey! I’m a Research Hero!” If this describes you, here’s how you can make yourself known to your researchers:
Are you thinking of your own Research Hero right now or someone who might become one? Do you think you might be one? 
Reach out to each other! These Research Heroes made it possible for us to build our research practices from scratch and scale our practices.
Who’s your Research Hero? What was their role? What did they do?

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