Achieve Impactful UXR: The Essential ResearchOps Framework

Master the 8 Pillars framework, created by leading UX researchers to streamline and scale your research practice.

User research (UXR) is the backbone of creating successful products. But as research efforts grow, managing logistics, participants, and data can become overwhelming. This is where ResearchOps comes in to lay the groundwork for user-centric product development. Whether you're new to ResearchOps or a seasoned pro, this guide offers insights into building collaborative, efficient, and secure research practices.

Defining ResearchOps

ResearchOps (or ReOps) is a specialized area of design operations focused on optimizing and empowering user research (UXR) efforts. It includes the processes, tools, and strategies that streamline research. By streamlining workflows, ResearchOps frees researchers to focus on what matters most – uncovering user needs.

In order to increase product adoption, customer satisfaction, and revenue growth. From managing tools and resources to streamlining participant recruitment, ResearchOps is the engine that drives impactful user research for business success.

ResearchOps is the people, mechanisms, and strategies that set user research in motion. It provides the roles, tools, and processes needed to support researchers in delivering and scaling the impact of the craft across an organization.re+ops communitycreated from a series of 20 workshops

Why is Research Ops important?

Effective ResearchOps fosters a collaborative environment where the user's voice is at the heart of every product decision.

Research Ops helps organizations make more informed decisions, improve the user experience of their products or services, and drive business growth by aligning research efforts with strategic objectives.

The aim is to optimize research efforts' efficiency, quality, and impact while enabling better collaboration and knowledge sharing among researchers, facilitating cross-functional teams to access and leverage research findings.

re+ops, the world's biggest Research Ops community, outlined several core reasons why the practice is essential:

  • Protecting participant privacy

  • Bias

  • Ethics

  • Legal

  • Making research easier to do (i.e., democratizing research)

  • Operationalizing respect for the people who participate in our research

  • Magnifying the impact of our research (knowledge sharing)

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The Research Ops Framework

The re+ops community created a framework to define Research Ops, its functions, and its responsibilities within an organization. The initiative used survey data and outcomes from 33 #WhatisResearchOps workshops worldwide to highlight twelve key Research Ops elements.

This framework can enhance your understanding of Research Ops and enable you to structure operational systems and procedures using global best practices.

  1. Knowledge management

  2. Internal communications

  3. Asset management

  4. Tools

  5. Budget management

  6. Research spaces

  7. Participant recruitment

  8. Governance

  9. Event management

  10. Team building and care

  11. Capability & opportunity

  12. Guidelines and templates

Research Operations uncovers tensions, bridges communication gaps, and helps teams be more effective.Elham AliDesign Researcher at Beeck Center for Social Impact & Innovation

Knowledge management

The DIKW Pyramid — image credit: Ontotext

Knowledge management is a strategic approach of capturing, organizing, and leveraging research insights and information within an organization. It involves creating processes, tools, and systems that enable researchers—and other team members—to effectively store, share, and access knowledge generated through research activities. Empowering collaboration, knowledge sharing, and reuse of research insights across teams and projects. Therefore organizations make informed decisions based on user-centric data.

Some core components of knowledge management include:

  • Content management systems

  • Documentation of research findings

  • Research roadmaps

  • Centralized data repositories

  • Sharing—research, tools, findings, etc.

  • Best practices

  • Universal research vocabulary

  • Data gardening—retention schedule & archiving

Internal communications

The internal communications element is directly linked to knowledge management and involves establishing effective channels and processes for communication within the research team and across the organization. It ensures smooth information flow, collaboration, and alignment among researchers, stakeholders, and other teams.

Effective internal communications enable Research Ops to enhance collaboration, reduce duplication of efforts, and promote a shared understanding of research goals and outcomes within the organization.

Some core components of internal communications include:

  • Reporting—quarterly, customer, etc.

  • Information architecture

  • Platforms for socializing research

Asset management

Asset management includes organizing and maintaining a centralized repository of raw and processed data, including research-related assets, such as research reports, participant data, interview recordings, and design artifacts. UXRs must make this data accessible, findable, and useful for team members while adhering to security and permissions.

Some core components of asset management include:

  • Findable assets

  • Security & privacy

  • Centralized storage and distribution

  • Effective storage for RAW data—i.e., unedited A/V

  • Managing personal identifiable information

  • Data gardening—retention schedule & archiving

  • Permissions

Tools

Tools are the software and platforms that facilitate various research activities, such as participant recruitment, data collection and analysis, collaboration, and knowledge management.

Research Ops tools fall into five primary categories:

  1. Participant recruitment platforms streamline finding, recruiting participants, scheduling, and paying for research studies, ensuring representative and diverse user samples.

  2. Research management platforms help manage and track research projects, participant recruitment, scheduling, and logistics, streamlining the end-to-end research process.

  3. Data collection and analysis tools enable researchers to collect and analyze qualitative and quantitative data, such as surveys, interviews, usability testing, and analytics, providing valuable insights for decision-making.

  4. Collaboration and communication tools facilitate seamless collaboration among researchers, stakeholders, and team members, enabling efficient knowledge sharing, feedback exchange, and project management.

  5. Knowledge management systems assist in organizing, storing, and retrieving research assets, such as reports, insights, and design artifacts, making them easily accessible and reusable across the organization.

Some core components of tooling include:

  • Help me find the right tools

  • Tool sets—hardware, software, A/V equipment

  • Management—permissions, licenses, users, staff onboarding

  • Procurement

  • Planning of tools

Ethnio—a user research CRM to solve common UXR pain points

A lot of our customers have struggled managing multiple spreadsheets, Google Forms, and manually scheduling and paying participants. Ethnio helped automate and streamline this entire process.Kyle RobertsonProduct Specialist at Ethnio

Before Ethnio, many customers:

  • Managed an Amazon account to send individual incentives—a lot of wasted time and resources

  • Didn’t do any live/in-the-moment participant recruiting—enter Intercepts

  • Manually created each calendar event for their sessions, which Ethnio’s Scheduling automates for both Google Calendar and Outlook.

  • Managed a participant database in a tool like Airtable, which is fine, but doesn’t have the complexity of Ethnio Pool with rules and governance, tracking, and automations.

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Budget management

Budget management is the planning, allocating, and tracking financial resources for research activities. It ensures that research projects are executed within budgetary constraints while maximizing the impact and value of the research investments.

Effective Research Ops budget management must consider these five factors:

  1. Budget planning: Research Ops teams collaborate with stakeholders to define the research goals, objectives, and scope to estimate the required resources and associated costs.

  2. Cost estimation: Based on the research requirements, Research Ops teams assess the costs involved in participant recruitment, research tools, technology, travel expenses, incentives, and other research-related expenses.

  3. Budget allocation: Once the budget is determined, Research Ops teams allocate funds to various research projects, ensuring an appropriate distribution of resources based on priorities and strategic objectives.

  4. Expense tracking: Research Ops teams monitor and track expenses throughout research projects, ensuring that spending aligns with the budget. They also identify potential cost overruns or variances and take necessary measures to mitigate them.

  5. Reporting and analysis: Research Ops teams provide regular budget reports to stakeholders, outlining the utilization of funds, highlighting any significant variances, and providing insights into the return on investment from research activities.

Some core components of budget management include:

  • Tracking operational spend

  • Synching with broader budgetary processes

  • Budget approvals

  • Budget allocations per project

Research spaces

Research spaces are the physical or virtual environments where research activities take place. UXRs must design spaces that foster high-quality research, support seamless collaboration, and enhance the research experience for researchers and participants.

Researchers must consider procedures and protocols for these five essential research space components:

  1. Physical research spaces: are dedicated rooms or facilities equipped with appropriate tools and equipment for conducting in-person research sessions, such as usability tests, interviews, or focus groups. Research Ops teams ensure these spaces are well-designed, comfortable, and equipped with the necessary technology and recording capabilities.

  2. Virtual research spaces: include online platforms, video conferencing tools, and collaboration software that enable researchers to conduct remote studies, engage with participants, and facilitate remote collaboration among research team members.

  3. Lab management: UXRs must manage and maintain physical research spaces, including scheduling, resource allocation, and ensuring the spaces are appropriate for each research session, including coordinating with facilities management, IT/AV support, and other stakeholders to ensure a smooth research environment.

  4. Participant management: coordinate with participants, providing them with necessary instructions, directions, and any required equipment or technology to ensure a seamless research session.

  5. Accessibility and inclusivity: Research Ops teams consider accessibility and inclusivity when designing and managing research spaces. They ensure that spaces and tools are accessible to participants with different abilities and accommodate diverse user needs.

Participant recruitment

Research Ops teams ensure research studies have the right participants, leading to more accurate insights and informed decision-making. They streamline the recruitment process, optimize participant selection, and create a positive experience for participants, enhancing the overall research operations within an organization.

Here are some of the key UXR responsibilities of participant recruitment:

  • Participant sourcing: Research Ops teams collaborate with researchers and stakeholders to define the target audience for research studies. They employ various methods to source participants, such as intercepts, recruiting from existing user databases, utilizing recruitment agencies, or leveraging online platforms and communities.

  • Screening and qualification: Research Ops teams must screen participants to determine their suitability for specific research studies. Screening involves assessing participants' demographics, background, experience, or any specific criteria defined for the study.

  • Consent and incentives: the administrative tasks related to participant recruitment, such as obtaining informed consent from participants, managing confidentiality agreements, and facilitating the provision of incentives or compensation for their time and effort.

  • Scheduling and logistics: UXRs coordinate with participants, team members, and stakeholders to schedule research sessions, ensuring their availability aligns with the research timeline. They handle logistics, such as sharing session details, preparing participants for the research process, and addressing any questions or concerns they may have.

  • Participant database management: a participant database captures and stores relevant information about participants, their preferences, and their history of participation. This database helps streamline future recruitment efforts and enables efficient participant management for ongoing research initiatives.

Some core components of participant recruitment include:

  • Quality for the price

  • Manage both internal and outsourced recruitment

  • Engaging with external recruiters

  • Managing recruitment tools

  • Incentive management

  • Scheduling

  • Need to understand design and research

  • Managing a secure database of consent forms

  • Thanking respondents

  • Developing and maintaining a diverse customer panel

Governance

Governance refers to establishing and implementing frameworks, processes, and policies that ensure research activities are conducted effectively, ethically, and in alignment with organizational objectives.

Clear governance procedures are especially critical for research democratization because they provide non-researchers with the frameworks, guardrails, oversight, tools, and processes to conduct proper research.

Here is a high-level overview of Research Ops governance and what UXRs must consider for effective implementation:

  • Research standards and guidelines: establish and communicate research standards and guidelines to maintain consistency and quality across research projects, including research methodologies, ethical considerations, data privacy regulations, and reporting requirements.

  • Compliance and ethics: standards related to research, such as obtaining informed consent from participants, protecting participant privacy and data, and adhering to industry regulations and guidelines.

  • Documentation and reporting: Ensure findings, insights, and recommendations are adequately recorded and shared with relevant stakeholders. UXRs establish templates and guidelines for research documentation, making it easier for teams to capture and communicate their work effectively.

  • Stakeholder alignment: UXRs facilitate communication channels, such as regular research meetings or reporting mechanisms, to share research insights, validate findings, and gather feedback.

  • Process optimization: Identify bottlenecks, streamline workflows, and implement best practices to optimize the research operations and enable researchers to focus on generating valuable insights.

  • Risk management: Identifying potential biases, ensuring data security and privacy, and implementing safeguards to protect participants and intellectual property.

Event management

London based research team in a UXR workshop. Image credit: Dave Hora.

Researchers are responsible for event management, including planning, coordination, and execution of research-related events, such as user research sessions, workshops, conferences, or training programs. UXRs ensure that sessions and activities run smoothly, participants have a positive experience, and they meet event objectives.

Some core components of event management include:

  • Arranging distinguished speakers

  • Off-sites

  • Social events

  • Company events

  • Team meetings

Team building and care

According to re+ops findings, "Research Ops is as much about people and forging relationships and connections as it is about efficiency, support, and data." This framework element celebrates team members, helping to recruit and retain them longer—especially in remote organizations where team members are more likely to feel disconnected.

Some core components of team building and care include:

  • Celebrations

  • Birthdays

  • Pre-approved counseling service

  • Secondment opportunities

  • Onboarding new staff

Capability & opportunity

Image credit: re+ops community.

Developing researcher career progression is essential for growing the research team's experience, skill sets, confidence, and opportunities. This personal and team growth enhances their professional development and contributes to the overall success and effectiveness of the research operations within the organization.

Some core components of capability & opportunity include:

  • Professional development opportunities

  • Research skills and maturity matrix

  • Mentoring opportunities

  • Training opportunities

  • Book or reading club

  • Peer review sessions

  • Sparring sessions

Guidelines and templates

Image credit: Rodrigo Dalcin.

Guidelines and templates help maintain consistency, efficiency, and quality in research activities. They enable researchers—and non-researchers—to focus more on the research rather than reinventing processes or struggling with documentation. These guidelines lead to improved research outcomes and better-informed decision-making within the organization.

Some core components of guidelines and templates include:

  • Database of methods

  • Shared templates & methodology = shared understanding

  • Research briefing and reporting templates

  • Maintaining the content

  • Information architecture

  • Platform for sharing guidelines and templates

  • Clear guidelines and rules

    • How-to guides

    • Recruitment guidelines

    • Ethics guidelines

    • Customer contact guidelines

The Eight Pillars of Scaling Research Ops

The re+ops community has also devised the eight pillars of Research Ops. The community-driven initiative created a strategy for scaling research and ResearchOps. This framework can be used as a checklist to identify problem areas, bottlenecks, and inefficiencies and implement effective solutions.

User Experience Research and Design Leader at Meta, Emma Boulton, summarized the eight pillars of Research Ops in a Medium article.

Environment: Why does research happen, and who engages with what I do? 

  • People silos

  • Education

  • Value of research

  • Buy-in

  • Push back

  • Internally focused

  • Stakeholders

  • Executives

  • Colleagues

Scope: How and when does research happen? What methods?

  • Cadence 

  • Sharing insights

  • Prioritization

  • Integrating insights

  • Processes

  • Methods

  • Protocols

  • Research as a team sport—democratization

Recruitment and admin: How do I manage all the project and participant admin?

  • Incentives

  • Scheduling

  • Logistics

  • Panel management

  • Paperwork

  • Timesheets

  • Participant coordination

Data and knowledge management: What happens to the findings, data, and insights?

  • Research library

  • Data silos

  • Data gardening

  • Document templates

  • Knowledge management

People: Who is responsible for carrying out research?

  • Community of practice

  • Professional development

  • Staffing

  • Mature career paths

  • Leadership

  • Org design

Organizational context: What are the internal and external constraints? 

  • Space

  • Time

  • Resources

  • Budget

  • ROI

  • Business constraints

  • Market forces

  • Org maturity

Governance: What are the legal and ethical considerations?

  • Risk assessments

  • GDPR

  • Legal

  • Infosec

  • Consent

  • Ethics

Tools and infrastructure: What systems and tools do I need for my projects?

  • Procurement

  • Software

  • Hardware

  • Labs

  • Systems

  • Technology

  • Networks

By implementing a well-defined ResearchOps strategy, organizations can transform user research from isolated activities to a strategic asset that drives innovation and business success.

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Elevate Your UXR with ResearchOps and EthnioWhen researchers manage every aspect themselves, maintaining top-tier research practices across all stages can be challenging.

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