How Uber ensure that research makes an impact beyond the report

Validating your impact as a researcher can be challenging. Making impact your core focus leads to some changes in how you work but the results can be impressive.

How Uber ensure that research makes an impact beyond the report

Show your Impact

A few years ago I was at the turning point of my next big career move. Throughout the job-seeking process, the one thing recruiters at the time kept reiterating to me was to 'ensure that you highlight your impact'.

When I started thinking about what examples of impact I could highlight, I was nervous. I didn't have a lot of metrics or numbers that I could point at to show the impact that I was actually having on my work and my team, and several of the projects I'd worked on hadn't quite made it to the launch stage in a way that was meaningful to users. In fact, the project I was proudest of was still in the early concept phase.

At the same time, I was thinking, 'I've been in this role for over two years. What have I been doing?'.

Measuring Impact

Impact means to have a strong effect on someone or something. So it's not always something that needs to be measured with metrics and data. It can just be a matter of recognizing when and where you're actually having these effects on others and then how you can continue to move your work forward.

Image of the vocabulary definition of the word "impact"

At this point, a lightbulb went off for me. I realized that the work I was doing was impactful, but not in the way that I thought about it before. I was convincing skeptical stakeholders about the value of research, introducing new research methods to the team, and expanding the quality and capabilities of the insights we were actually able to capture from our users. I was even onboarding new designers and helping them to lead their own research so that we were able to scale our practice. When I really started to think about it, each of these activities was a moment where I was having impact.

Ever since this realization, I've been really intentional about translating my work into an assessment of its impact, even if the impact doesn't take the form of hard metrics.

When looking to maximize impact I focus on three key techniques; building authentic relationships, the importance of bringing the team behind the scenes, and then what it means to go beyond the research report to make sure that you keep having a positive impact on lives even after your research study is complete.

Building authentic relationships

This acts as a solid foundation for your research as it sets you up as a credible resource that your teams can approach when they need research guidance or support. To achieve this you need to:

Bullet points to identify your allies together with image of a people in a meeting

Identify your allies

Find the people most highly invested and closely aligned with the projects you are working on whether they are project managers, designers, or data scientists. Get to know them as people first and co-workers second, because this is where that authenticity comes in.

Once you've built these relationships with your immediate team, start to expand your network. Find out who the people in your core network are engaging with most frequently. Learn what information matters to them. Introduce yourself and actively establish yourself as a research counterpart to their work.

Lastly, identify your influencers. These are key decision-makers, and the people who have a lot of influence on your team. Try to understand what matters most to them. How have they engaged with research in the past? What worked for them and what didn't? This allows you to frame your research or insights to be as impactful as possible for the people who will be taking action.

Research as a partner, not a resource

When I think about research as a resource, it usually means a researcher is asked to swoop into a project that has already been kicked off, deliver some insights, and then leave and move on to the next work.

If we reframe our role to that of a partner, we're setting ourselves up to be a member of the team from the very beginning. To achieve this, instead of moving on to the next project after the research is completed, embed yourself in a range of team meetings and rituals, not just the ones that center around research. Ensure you're attending standups, design critiques, product reviews, and any meeting where your research can actually inform product decisions. This is your chance to speak up in meetings, share your perspective, and be an active part of the team. This is a piece that I used to really struggle with because I used to see my role as a researcher as just sharing insights and recommendations. But I noticed that once I started speaking up, I was often bringing a new perspective that the team hadn't even considered before.

Consider your Compromisess tips

Consider your compromises

A strong relationship is more important than maybe digging your heels in and holding firm on the ‘right’ research method or approach. Building trust is a long-term goal and it's going to require some compromises along the way. For example, when UXR can't support a research request, you need to be upfront about it and say you can’t support it. If possible, suggest an alternate solution, such as finding an existing research study or merging their questions into an existing study, where applicable.

Bringing the team behind the scene

We sometimes forget just how much we know about our craft. Unfortunately, that means we unintentionally leave our partners and stakeholders behind because we simply know what to do next. But the more that we involve our partners and stakeholders in the process, the more often we're aligned on the goals and outcomes. In my experience, it can also create a lot of empathy for the role and the work that we do.

I like to start by getting my team on board with an understanding of when certain research methods are best used to optimize the value of the project. For example, a stakeholder may suggest a poll when in fact, we as researchers, can suggest a better array of tools that are fit for purpose.

Tips for bringing the Team behind the scenes

I usually start by explaining the purpose and trade-offs of different methods, how we are planning to conduct the research, why I chose this method over others, and then what the team is going to expect to learn from these insights. This can be confusing because research terminology is tricky. People have different understandings of user testing, usability testing, concept testing, evaluation, and validation. Ensure that everyone is agreed on the terminology to avoid confusion.

Finally, invite your team to attend the sessions live. This is one of the best ways to make sure that they're getting access to the insights in real-time.

The Report and Beyond

You've done all this hard work. You've talked to your users. You've recruited them. You did the analysis and the synthesis. You've made this beautiful report at the end of it. And you don't want your work to end there.

One of the easiest ways I've found to make sure that this happens is just to cite your research literally everywhere. If I'm taking a look at a document that somebody has asked me to review, I'm leaving comments and linking the research directly there with them. I’m posting in Slack or Zoom chats when recurring themes keep coming up in conversations.

Tips for acting beyond your tasks

And then in addition to citing your own work, it is your responsibility as the researcher to kind of be the voice of the user in every single room. So I like to think about this as being the squeaky wheel; the person who's always reminding the team of what it is that we've learned and how it's impacting the user's experience. But don’t forget to pick your battles. Maintain that compromise mentality to keep those relationships at a really good level.

Identifying the Impact of your Work

It's tricky to say that you're going to see your impact when you aren't in the room but there are some indications that you can identify.

You are receiving more research requests

You’ve established yourself as the ‘go-to’ person for research insights because your team knows about, and trusts, your work.

You’re being included earlier on in the process
Instead of only validating a solution right before launch, your research is now helping to define the product roadmap.

You have a larger network of stakeholders engaged with your research
Pay attention to how many people have shown interest in your work, how many people are reaching out to you about it, and where they're coming from to understand the size of your network.

Your research is cited when you're not in the room
For example, it's referenced in someone else's document or people start mentioning that they've heard about the excellent insights you've shared.

You’re connecting the dots

You're finding where your research actually has a greater impact on other parts of the business, not just your own. You might even receive more research requests beyond your immediate team.

Don’t forget to reflect

Impact really tends to build upon itself. And so setting a great foundation means that you are really setting yourself up for success and maximizing the amount of impact you're able to achieve.

Start to take note of all the different effects that you're having on your team, no matter how big or small. Check-in with yourself every couple of months and just take note of all the different changes happening. You may not be able to see the change happening until you reflect on it.

You may quickly come to realize your impact is far greater than you first thought.