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Breaking Barriers

Overcoming frustrations in Inclusive User Research

In the fast-paced world of tech teams, there are many challenges to navigate. For user researchers and designers, these challenges can be particularly daunting when you’re also attempting to adopt inclusivity as a practice. Our research retros with partners usually offers an opportunity to reflect on the pain points, fears, desires and vent frustrations. In our ongoing quest to share, we have pulled the top frustrations, fears and desires from the past 12 months to share with you in three blogs over the coming weeks.


Let's explore the top 8 frustrations we hear most often from our colleagues.


1. Lack of diverse perspectives in feedback and ideation processes

One of the most significant frustrations is the lack of diverse perspectives in feedback and ideation sessions. When the same voices dominate the conversation, it can be challenging to generate innovative ideas that resonate with diverse audiences. Without input from people with different backgrounds and experiences, there's a risk of creating content and products that perpetuate inequalities. In the past 4 years, you've all become much more aware of the silos and echo chambers in your teams and organisations.


2. Limited access to diverse user groups

Reaching underrepresented demographics in user research can be a major hurdle. Whether it's due to limited access, lack of support from senior leaders or a lack of resources, getting meaningful feedback from diverse and intersectional groups can feel like an uphill battle. However, without insights from these communities, there's a risk of overlooking important needs and preferences, leading to products and content that don't fully meet the needs of all users (only reach 80%). 


Even when you recognise the importance of diversity in user testing, accessing diverse user groups can be a challenge. Whether it's due to geographical limitations, lack of trust or cultural barriers, finding and recruiting participants from different backgrounds can feel like an impossible task. Without diverse perspectives in their testing environments, there's a risk of overlooking important usability issues and biases in their products. 


Why is this a problem? If you're designing a commercial product it might not be. But if you’re designing public services, then at People Street, we suggest you have a moral imperative to ensure that the 20% you’re excluding, the people at greatest risk of exclusion are centred in your research. You design with the 20% but roll it out for everyone. 


3. Challenges in creating sensitive and relevant content

Without a deep understanding of nuances and sensitivities of your target audience, it's easy to inadvertently create content that misses the mark or even excludes. Navigating these waters requires thoughtful research, sensitivity, and a willingness to learn from your mistakes. Assuming you have all the answers is a recipe for exclusion. We hear from a lot of content creators, especially junior staff that you're struggling to embed a reflective practice as more senior members of their team favour pointing out errors rather than learning from them. Many of us have been in similar spaces, my advice to you- keep building your reflective muscles, do it on your own, a peer or with an external community....just keep reflecting, learning, growing.


4. Bias in data collection and analysis processes

Whether it's unconscious bias in survey questions or sampling methods that inadvertently exclude certain demographics, bias can skew the results and lead to flawed insights. Overcoming these biases requires a commitment to sharing the analysis at every stage of the research process so that you catch the moments where you made incorrect assumptions about what a participant said or did. At People Street we often adopt a sense-making feedback loop. This is a chance for researchers to share their analysis with participants for approval. It doesn’t take long. It gives researchers assurance and legitimacy to proceed. 


You can embed several loops or one. The number isn't necessarily important. The key is taht you are not assuming you're a know-it-all! Because assumption makes an ass out of you and me!


5. Resistance to inclusive practices within the organisation

Whether it's outdated attitudes, lack of awareness, or fear of change, overcoming resistance to inclusivity initiatives can feel like an uphill battle. Without buy-in from key stakeholders, it's difficult to implement meaningful changes that truly prioritise design justice principles. To overcome this, you need to reframe and embed the practice into business as usual rather than an EDI objective which will be scrapped when the tide changes. Don’t make it about EDI. Make it about best practice. Make it about increasing reach and creating sustainable products.


6. Lack of resources or expertise for accessible design

Without the necessary resources and support, it can be difficult to prioritise accessibility and ensure that everyone can access the services and products you're building. If you haven't developed an inclusive team, let that be your priority. You can't do inclusion out in the world if you aren't successfully doing it in your organisations and teams. It's a thread that it tied to the culture of your organisations. The Department of Education User research colleagues are doing some great work in this space driven by User Researchers who are themselves neurodivergent. 


7. Ignorance or insensitivity towards inclusive language and imagery

Without a deep understanding of the impact of language and imagery on different groups, it's easy to inadvertently exclude. Overcoming this is a willingness to listen, engage and learn from diverse perspectives in the research and design process. Use discovery sessions as an opportunity to speak to a broad range of people as possible. Until recently, the NHS.co.uk website only used photographic examples of medical conditions on white skin. Would it surprise you that chickenpox does NOT look the same on pale white skin as it would on my brown skin? So, when I checked the site to see if my child had chickenpox, I was none the wiser! When we are adamant on designing for the dominant, we exclude. That exclusion can cost us money downstream. In the acse of the NHS, it is paramount we tackle exclusion in communications. Remember, you are not supposed to have all the answers. That’s what partnership and research is for!


8. Difficulty in measuring inclusivity and its impact

Without clear metrics and benchmarks, it's difficult to gauge the effectiveness of inclusivity efforts and track progress over time. Overcoming this challenge requires doing your homework! I know, I know, you’re an adult, you thought your homework days were behind you! Well, no. You have got to keep doing the work to deepen your practice and your narrative. This will give you the tools to create metrics or strategies that fit into your organisation's objectives as well as fostering inclusive design. It won’t magically appear, you need to walk the walk and talk the talk. There’s a certain superhero we are working with at a government department. Her name is Alison, and she wears her superhero pants everyday. She doesn’t need fancy footwork to do inclusive research, to her it's simply good user research because she’s done her homework. Be like Alison!


We know you’re facing numerous frustrations as you strive to create inclusive pathways and products. Naming these and stepping back is just a first step. In the next couple of blogs we will share the top fears and desires. Let us know if you have any frustrations we have missed out. We are always keen to learn.

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