‘Democratising’ is the practice of adding a democratic process to something. From a national election to tidying the house, anything can be democratised; in this blog, I want to look at the case for democratising research. What can it do for you? What are the benefits? Is it just what you need?
First, let’s take a quick look at the traditional research route and what issues can arise with this.
The Classic Research Process
The classic route for research is, to put it rather glibly, the research team researches something and passes the feedback to the other teams (organisational, marketing, development, etc.) to implement as changes and improvements. There is of course a lot more to it than that and even the most traditional research involves far more steps than this to ensure that the results of the research are not only relevant but also effective.
Democratising, put simply, is sharing the responsibility and results of research with everyone; and not just everyone within your department, but everyone within the business, creating an firm-wide culture of insights.
In spite of processes and safeguards, sometimes research just doesn’t pan out; ask any honest researcher and they will tell you there are plenty of times that in spite of their best efforts, they miss the mark and their research just isn’t that useful. There is an old adage involving the American and Russian space programs and millions of dollars spent on a pointless pen, which is indeed a myth… but this idea of brilliant research, done pointlessly crops up fairly regularly. Excessive time and resources are spent on honest research into something that they were convinced was paramount… only to be undone by a lack of perspective.
All this is to say that research can be world-leading and still absolutely pointless! Fancy it may be, but sometimes it’s just not worth the resources that will be wasted, and means that there is a lot of extra data floating around that is just as vulnerable to misuse under data protection laws. Well, avoiding this is all about one thing…
Changing your perspective is notoriously hard to do. Your own perspective can be unique and useful in many instances, but it can also be a blinker that stops you from seeing what really needs to be done. Thinking inside this box can lead to everyone’s most dreaded place… a rut.
One way to help lessen the risk of you being blinkered by your perspective is to not only open your mind, but also your door. Democratising, put simply, is sharing the responsibility and results of research with everyone; and not just everyone within your department, but everyone within the business, creating an organisation-wide culture of insights as well as a central database of crucial insights and data that is universally accessible to all teams. The actual research is always best kept to the research team, but the direction of and target for research is something that others can assist with very successfully.
Democratising is already a familiar process for researchers and it is usually what they do once they are finished with a big research project. They analyse their results then share them to the key decision makers in the company with recommendations for changes to processes and products, but this needs to be taken further. I want to look at knocking the democratising back a few steps and slotting it in before the research really begins.
Adding other members and other departments of your business to your research process may sound like adding a few too many chefs into the kitchen, but in market research this can lead to a much more streamlined process and far better results. Who knows more about the customers than customer service? More about demand than purchasing?
The knowledge that these teams already hold can often remove the introductory research steps such as screening that can take up so much time and resources. Furthermore, each department will have their own knowledge of what aspects of the business (whether that’s the products/services they offer or the processes within the organisation) need researching most.
Departments external to the research team can provide a lot of insight on how relevant research topics actually are. Now this is not to say that researchers should forget their own research goals and leave the decision making up to all in sundry, but letting a little knowledge in can make sure that they’re going in the right direction in the pursuit of actionable insights.
Benefits and Challenges
The benefits to this approach can be hard to define and being that they are dependent on the level of knowledge another department holds. Some of the benefits that a well-managed democratised research process can offer, include:
- Better working relationships with your colleagues
- More satisfied research participants through enhanced research tasks/schedules
- Less leg work in the initial stages (profiling, screening, sourcing)
- Increased interdepartmental communication overall
“It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” — Charles Darwin
The difference between reaping the benefits of demoratised research and wading through challenges is communication. Clear, consistent communication is key to succeeding in this new research experience.
As with anything with benefits, there can also be challenges and the real difference between arriving at the list above and the list below is how you manage the newly democratised research process. The list below is some of the possibilities that can happen if there is a significant lack in clear communication between departments:
- Procrastination (it’s harder to motivate others to do extra work)
- Indecision and lack of clarity (without a fixed structure it can be hard to pair back other people’s suggestions)
- Passion projects (just because someone is very passionate about a topic, doesn’t make it worthwhile to research)
- Assumption of knowledge (just because they have the right job title doesn’t mean they are the right person to help you)
Overcoming the Challenges
So, we’ve shown that democratising can have its benefits and its challenges, but how to make sure that you stay the right side of this? The trick is knowing your limits and reigning things in very tightly from the word go, as with all things, letting a small thing slip can lead to big consequences. To assist you in getting the most from collaboration, I’ve put together a few top tips to limit the chances of challenges overrunning the research experience:
- Have a goal in mind — sounds simple, but if you go to others for feedback without a basic structure for your research then you will end up with a mess of topics, a camel as it is sometimes referred to.
- Set a time limit — as with any project involving another department, a tight and strict deadline is imperative.
- Remember your own expertise — you are the researcher, because another department thinks that it’s a good idea doesn’t make it so.
- Be honest — if a suggestion or feedback is not feasible then let people know in a respectful manner. Constructive criticism is always more welcome than just pointing out problems.
- Communicate! — whatever group channel you use to do this, make sure that you communicate clearly and consistently.
Democratising has potential, but it needs your help
The main point that we want you to take away is that democratising your research has potential, but as with all things that have potential it needs managing and nurturing to be really useful. If you’re a research pro then democratising might be something that you’ve got down to a fine art and we may have just been telling you what you already know. If this is new to you though and something that you are looking to implement in the near future then we hope that our points and warnings are helpful in helping you define a structure for your research.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” — Helen Keller
The original version of this article appeared on the FlexMR Insight Blog and can be accessed here.