Is democratizing user research a bad idea?

I care a lot about user researcher and I love to teach people, so it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I’ve been advocating for and teaching people about user research in my new civic role.

I told an industry friend about the work I was doing to democratize user research, and he seemed surprised.

Turns out, in a previous role, he’d been a part of a project to open up user research across the org. People, no matter their role, were encouraged to interview users, analyze the interview notes for insights, and report on those findings. From his telling, the result was a mess: duplicate interviews, overlapping insights, biased conclusions, and what felt like a hundred different versions of the "user truth.”

His story forced me to stop and think. Is my goal for a broader research practice fundamentally flawed?


Here’s why I think that:

  • There’s a big need for human-centered design, especially in government services;
  • The decentralized structure of state government (at least in NYS) means that many of the digital products are being built by disparate teams;
  • These teams are often made up of people untrained in design who are nevertheless responsible for design and design research work (sometimes called shadow designers).

TL;DR — The org consists of too many different agencies for a single practice to support them all, so teaching teams how to do research well is the key to seeing human-centered design implemented at scale.

Jesse Gardner

Up Next: 4 ways to stop a user research mess

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