Activity-Based Research

Session Type

Focus Talk

About the Session

Here is a scenario - does this resonate?

You conduct data gathering in a research study. As the researcher, you place heavy emphasis on how to ask the “right question”. Even after careful scrutiny of the questions, your interactions yield shallow answers from participants. This results in lots of chatter afterward about the participant being “good” or “bad”.

Let’s think about the details here.

As the researcher – ask yourself:
Do you really ever deliver the question exactly as it is written?

Now put yourself in the participant’s shoes:
When was the last time you spoke about a topic, that you don’t think about all the time, for one hour or longer? If so, were your thoughts always well-formed?

It’s time to rethink the way we connect with participants when asking them questions.

In this talk, Meena will introduce the concept of activity-based protocols. This approach invites participants to think more deeply about what they want to share, and in a way that allows them to unravel their own thoughts. Using activity-based protocols inherently removes the emphasis on the researcher to
craft the “right question”.

Meena will share examples of typical questions in a way that encourages the participant to share rich answers, in a fun and transparent manner.

About the Speaker

Meena Kothandaraman

Experience Strategist at twig+fish

With 30+ years of experience, Meena has consulted to emphasise the strategic value and positioning of qualitative research in the design of product, space and service. Meena is fascinated by the complexity of human behaviour, and applies a credible, structured and transparent approach to integrating human stories and anecdotes into mainstream processes. This ensures that research activities provide the best service to the organisation, and that learning objectives are addressed to maximise potential.

Meena is a founding member of twig+fish, a research and strategy practice based in Boston, MA, that espouses these research beliefs, while maintaining a utopic work-life balance. She is also a key Lecturer in the Bentley University Human Factors and Information Design (HFID) graduate program. Over her 20+year tenure, her capstone qualitative research course has guided now- leading practitioners to integrating meaningful and successful research practices. She has openly shared her experience as a WOC as part of the curriculum she has constructed.

She holds an M.S. in Information Resources Management from Syracuse University and a B.Com. in MIS from the University of Ottawa, Canada. Meena is always inspired in her work by her other passions, namely performing as a South-Indian Classical Violinist, pursuing culinary arts through a learn-to-cook program, and learning about the career pursuits of her two children!




19 Oct

Half-Day Workshop

This workshop takes place the day before the conference and requires a separate ticket if you’d like to join.

Leveraging a Strategic Research Framework

Half day workshop • Wednesday 18 October 2023

Workshops require a separate ticket from the conference. You're welcome to join a workshop without attending the conference.

Course Overview

In many organisations, the qualitative research process comes together fairly predictably: stakeholders approach researchers with knowledge gaps and qualitative researchers then face challenges of resource scarcity (no time, budget or skill to address the described knowledge gaps, compounded by a negative mindset toward research). The result of many research studies is then a rushed implementation that fails to address actual objectives. Knowledge gaps persist, and designs are instead built on low-confidence assumptions. Ultimately, the designs suffer.

What if we began understanding research and knowledge gaps with an aligned perspective? What if research studies were organised, and positioned in a way that always began with an understanding of the human story, while transparently communicating the effort it takes to collect those stories? Positioning research as a strategic tool enables teams to ensure that we learn from people first before applying knowledge to products. Knowledge gaps are addressed by priority, and in a way that creates confidence that the human story serves as an anchor to the designs being created.

In this workshop and using a shared case study as foundation, Meena of twig+fish will guide attendees through a process that establishes language for qualitative research tasks and leverages a framework that focuses on understanding knowledge sources, and ultimately documenting questions that represent knowledge gaps.

As part of the workshop, attendees will learn and practice how to:

  • Recognise and reflect on research challenges
  • Identify high-confidence knowledge sources to further leverage later in the process of addressing knowledge gaps
  • Bring awareness to assumptions and confidence levels in existing information
  • Collect knowledge gaps in the form of questions
  • Organise knowledge gaps into a prioritised roadmap with clearly defined learning objectives
  • Reveal organisational research habits and patterns
  • Relate learning objectives to study design

Attendees can expect to:

  • Discuss research challenges and identify those with the highest impact
  • Plot their knowledge confidence against a framework that aims to reveal high-confidence sources
  • Plot stakeholder questions (via the case study) onto the framework that reveals specifics about knowledge gap being raised
  • Review an affinitised set of questions (via the case study) that form a learning roadmap, and observe patterns
  • Discuss patterns of importance that establish priority and direction for the research team
  • Discuss how the collect information will impact study design options

Attendees will leave the workshop with:

  • Mechanics and tactics needed to address their own research challenges
  • A language for qualitative research, and a process that can be immediately internalised in their own organisations
  • Frameworks to reveal knowledge confidence and to organise knowledge gaps (in the form of questions) to create a learning roadmap
  • A foundation for identifying patterns of knowledge gaps in the organisation, and where the research team can provide a strategic lens on addressing unknowns
  • An understanding of how to translate the learning roadmap into a study design and practicing these skills with a small team

Attendees who are considering this workshop should:

  • Have some experience with research studies as a stakeholder, observer or researcher (complete novices might not get as much value without a basis of current challenges in positioning research in organisations)
  • Complete a 10-min work assignment that includes completing a simple survey (all survey results will be anonymous, and shared with the group at the beginning of the session for purposes of establishing a foundation on research challenges that attendees experience), and reading two short articles
  • Be willing to engage in discussion and collaborate with their group toward learning and discussion
  • Feel that the discussions are held in a safe space, and that all information discussed in the workshop will remain in the workshop and not be carried further

What's included

You’ll participate in a half-day workshop with great exposure to the workshop trainer in an intimate setting. We will provide refreshments to keep you energised, all included in the workshop fee. Workshop materials like pencils, markers and paper will be ready for you.

View full details & ticketing

Get your ticket

Get your ticket now and join us on October 19–20 in Munich!

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