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Research methods for technology selection projects

08 Dec 2023

When selecting technology for your organisation, it’s vital to build a deep understanding of its people, objectives, pain points and processes. Simply interviewing a handful of stakeholders isn’t good enough.

In the early stages of a technology selection process you will need to gather lots of information about your organisation, its people and their objectives, pain-points and processes. In particular, when attempting to understand the context in which any technology is going to be used by your teams, it’s vital to research not only what the new technology should do but what people currently do.

Therefore, you should be using a number of different research techniques. Simply interviewing stakeholders isn’t empathising — you’ll often just end up with a list of feature requests, every one of which is marked ‘must-have’.

We use these seven techniques to build that understanding and ground technology projects in reality.

1. Workshops

Gather people from different disciplines to hammer out a shared understanding of your organisation’s key processes. Doing this together in a workshop format is brilliant for engaging people in your project and forming shared understanding and empathy amongst your team. Workshops also highlight disagreements or differences in understanding and help everyone involved stay focussed on the bigger picture rather than thinking exclusively about their own job. Consider engaging an outside facilitator.

2. Shadowing

Follow stakeholders around and watch them do their job. This sort of direct observation is core to the area of ethnographic research and very valuable, though labour intensive. Lead with questions like “Show me on the screen what you do for {task}”.

3. Incumbent critique

Find out what’s wrong or right with existing technology. You can do this in questionnaires and interviews, and it works particularly well as part of shadowing. Ask questions like “What works well with the existing system? What doesn’t work well or is missing? How has your role and the environment in which we work changed since this system was put in place?”

4. Current data

Your existing technology will contain data, and unless you work with it every day you won’t know the nuance of what information your organisation’s day-to-day work creates and uses. Look at your databases, reports, data entry forms, past email campaigns and digital media libraries. External consultants can help you audit your existing systems and create current-state documentation to use in your technology selection project.

5. Review existing documentation

There may be documentation around your existing technology including system diagrams, planning documents and past research. Ask around to find out who was responsible for putting the last system in place.

6. Interviews

One-on-one interviews can yield more candid answers, especially if you explain they are confidential. Ask open-ended questions and take note of what stakeholders choose to talk about. However, take interview answers with a pinch of salt. Asking people what they want is not a rigorous design process and can lead you back to feature checklists.

7. Questionnaires

Questionnaires yield lots of information and are low cost. In particular, large organisations won’t be able to speak to everyone, nor is that warranted. However, engaging a wide group is useful for both information gathering and broader engagement with your project. Use questionnaires to ask broad questions of your organisation and, if appropriate, your supporters or beneficiaries. Use questionnaires with specialised topic questions and longer-form answers to ask information of stakeholders you plan to interview before doing so.

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