What it is

User research can result in large, sometimes overwhelming amounts of data. You can organise and analyse the data as a team through an exercise known as ‘collaborative sensemaking’.

Why it’s important

Research data needs to be analysed and understood, so it becomes useful to your team and guides the way they design and deliver services.

Analysing your own data leads to problems because:

  • your personal biases (thoughts and opinions) will influence your interpretation
  • your logic might not make sense every time
  • no one will be able to judge if your analysis is fair

Collaborative sensemaking can help overcome these problems if you share your data with different people and ask them to do the analysis with you in a structured way.

This method provides a fast and productive way to:

  • understand whether everyone sees the same issues from the data
  • gather different opinions on the data
  • check that your analysis of the problem is thorough
  • provide solid conclusions
  • involve the wider team (including users and stakeholders) in the project
  • help everyone on the team become part of the design decision-making process

You should use sensemaking workshops after any significant piece of user research when you need to:

  • make sense of the research
  • make sure your ideas and conclusions about the research are correct

Making workshops a regular team exercise means you’re more likely to have a shared understanding of user needs.

How you do it

This will depend on your project, the goals of the workshop, the project phase and the time and space available.

Plan your session to make sure you involve the right people and the make best use of the time available.

You should consider including:

  • users and stakeholders of the service
  • people who have observed research workshops
  • people involved in making decisions about the design of the service
  • people whose work will be directly affected by the workshop

When planning the session, make sure you have considered the accessibility of the session and venue.

If the team observe user research, ask them to write down thoughts and ideas while they are fresh.

If your research involves watching someone doing a task, categorise your notes by:

  • what the participant said
  • what the participant did
  • what the researcher/observer/facilitator thought

Labelling gives you a record so you can understand and, if necessary, explain how decisions were made afterwards.

Making participants comfortable

Building trust is an essential part of collaboration. Treat participants as equals, with respect and care. When you first invite them to take part, consider their time and commitments.

Make sure they understand the goals of the workshop and what they will be expected to do.

Running a workshop

A facilitator will prompt discussion and keep conversations focussed. To reduce bias, use someone with experience, or a person who is not attached to your project.

The facilitator should draw out the thoughts and experiences of the group, asking questions, rather than giving opinions.

Participants should be guided to provide one or more sets of themes from the data, which the session lead will use to produce a balanced report.

Sharing the results

You can share the results in different ways, for example a short presentation or report.

This should summarise the research, what it means for the project and how it can help the project team take action.

Useful resources

You can request a template and more detailed guidance on running a workshop from design@gov.scot