Being Agile #4 – Qualities of a User Researcher: Love, Practice and Purpose.

This has occupied my thoughts this weekend – mostly because I have to share my thoughts on this with my new colleagues tomorrow.

So thought back to times when I was at my most productive and the qualities of the people I worked with – and weighed that up against my new found self awareness in the post Autistic Spectrum Disorder diagnosis landscape and against the values I now hold.

So I offer these three features of a good research team.


Many years ago, I read a journal article by Tweed comparing Socratic with Confucian learning several years ago.  I found it a challenging read and was struck by the concepts within it:

Socrates developed a cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presumptions

Confucius was a relentless instructor and was anxious that his pupils were not merely to parrot the words of authorities, but to truly understand and be reformed by the knowledge contained in those words. (Tweed, R)

This resonated with earlier Biblical teaching I encountered in my youth from 1 Corinthians 13 v 1-7:

1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge…….but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

A good research team needs to listen to their users; listen lovingly, faithfully, respectfully and with the intent of  ‘fallen in love with what exists’.  Only then do we earn the right to interrogate the Users thoughts and actions and begin to question them in order to develop hypotheses and insights.  Socrates has no place in the User Research Lab, he is very welcome in the subsequent analysis.

The second half of the Corinthians passage is an excellent set of values to base a team ethic on.


Yoga has formed a cornerstone of my recovery from a catastrophic breakdown and years at the mercy of anxiety and depression.   Core to that has been learning to regulate my reptilian brain by breathing and the concept that perfection cannot be achieved, but that striving to be better today than yesterday is the best way to improve your impact on the world.   i-recognize-my-qualities-i-know-my-strengths-i-love-me-i-have-the-power-to-make-my-tomorrow-a-better-tomorrow-shobhna-rj-motivational-quotes-thought-of-the-day

This resonates with the educator in me.  For almost 20 years I engaged in reflective praxis, the change from hopeful action to knowing action, based on experience and learning.

A good research team should always be looking for ways to improve, to reflect upon the last research and look for ways to improve and move forwards to more knowing practice.  If the team has a ‘loving’ culture, this is much easier to do.


I was fortunate enough to work with Oliver Quinlan at Plymouth University.  He introduced me to real intellectual rigour.  He pushed me to unwind all my thinking to make sure I understood the Purpose of any action, policy or strategy.  In short, always start with the why, not the what.

Time is precious, we have much to learn about many people doing many things.

An effective research team should focus on constructive alignment:

  • Define the purpose of the research,
  • Identify the data required to perform the analysis
  • Gather the data in the most effective way to enable prompt and efficient analysis.
  • Provide a superb participant experience to derive the data it needs.

“Starting with the why” is always the best place to begin.


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