Human Centered Design Research Synthesis: Three Focused Steps For Synthesis

When we left off last with our fellows, they were gearing up to take their How Might We questions out into the world. Armed with their training from orientation, teams launched themselves into data collection mode, focusing on human center design research.

After four weeks of on the ground community interaction, concentrating on interviews and location visits, groups convened for a day of process and synthesis refinement.

The purpose of the day was for teams to test assumptions, confirm framing and further explore the How Might We questions collectively.

Three main steps were established to help the fellows make sense of the research they collected:

Step 1: Sharing and Documenting

Teams began by sharing and systematically documenting observations from their field work. Given that most team members spoke to interviewees or observed locations on their own, this is an important step to take to ensure that the whole team is informed about the research that took place.

Teams organized a list of all the interviews that took place and locations that were visited.

At this point in the synthesis, it remained crucial that fellows resist the urge to jump to solutions. This step requires people to think strictly from working to better understand the problem at hand — not solve it.

Step 2: Theme Clustering

The second step of synthesis involved teams stepping back and looking at the overall research. What patterns can be identified? Is there a theme presented?

Distinguishing a single group leader to lead through this step was key to help teams determine organize their findings.

Looking at the overall list created in step one, each team member singled out five pieces of research that they found most interesting or insightful. These were extracted and grouped together with extractions labelled “gems”. Then together as a group, the team clustered these “gems” into themes.

After the establishment of theme groups, the remainder of the ungrouped research was scanned for supporting evidence of the established theme groups.

While being conscience of having a minimum number of clusters, fellows asked themselves if clusters could be combined or if new clusters should be established.

For each final cluster, teams created a headline to capture the overarching theme for their grouped finding.

Teams worked together to process their research findings and find common themes

Step 3: Identifying Insights

Using the categorized groups established in step two, teams moved on to identifying unique challenges in each cluster/theme. The purpose of this activity was to help teams understand the reason certain themes have emerged.

Teams discussed how these themes relate to their How Might We question and identified how these themes could potentially inform their design process.

At the end of the day, teams were asked to present a snapshot of their findings, resulting synthesis and challenges and insights.

Teams noted time and pace of the work as things as they were struggling to manage. One fellow said “I seem to go fast when I should go slow and I slow down when I need to go fast.” Finding a balance was listed one of the top challenges for individuals and teams alike.

It was expressed that having to process information to provide insights in a short amount of time was tough and finding comfort in discomfort was a difficult endeavor to achieve.

Out of the reflection also came wonderful insights. Teams were inspired by the human centered design research they conducted and acknowledge the power of personal narratives.

Teams overwhelmingly agreed that they worked best as a team, citing the trust they had in one another.

Identifying unique challenges out of insights helped teams clarify the scope of their work; for instance, one team noted, “connecting is what makes us human! Isolation is a human problem that needs a human solution!”

The day of synthesis had further energized them with a sense of purpose and scope.

Fellows share challenges and insights

Next Steps: Refining How Might We Questions and Mapping Systems

Between now and our nest session, team’s will work on taking their idenitifedinsights, which represent the challenges exposed during team research, and turn them into How Might We questions. Properly framing these challenges provides a strong base for their upcoming prototyping session.

Teams will also work to reveal systems through system thinking and mapping by creating a map that illustrates the dynamics and interconnection of the issues they have identified.

The systems map can help identify assumptions and knowledge gaps, allowing teams to explore the overall issue and find areas where creative change fits in.

The goal of these two homework assignments is to have teams build on and strengthen their How Might We questions while incorporating insights that drive and inspire them. The new refined How Might We questions should allow teams to frame decisions thoroughly while providing options for multiple solutions and prepare them for the upcoming prototyping session.

A famous physicist once said “if you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.”

The day’s synthesis exercises and next step assignments are a great way for fellows to step outside of their comfort zone, test their assumptions and think differently.

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A social innovation lab focused on population aging in Nova Scotia, Canada. @NSGovLab