Even well resourced organisations with wonderful, rich websites can struggle with this question. They spend time and money on sophisticated web stats software and user research and feel that through this they have got a handle on what their users think when, in actual fact, they could be off the mark by several magnitudes. Why might this be true?
Archive for the 'user research' Category
You’ve been feeling low, you have no energy and you’re starting to get worried. You go to the doctor who, after checking a few vital parameters, tells you there’s nothing major wrong and prescribes some medication that will help you get back to normal. We would never dream of taking chances with our health so we get regular check ups and, if the worst comes to the worst, we hope that anything major is caught early enough to be able to do something about it.
This is just common sense isn’t it? Yet organizations can expend huge resources on their intranets and communication systems but generally have no idea of how healthy they are at any one time. This contributes to the all too common phenomenon of intranet boom and bust. Someday it just dawns on everyone that their intranet is not fit for purpose but shouldn’t they have seen it coming? Unfortunately it can be hard unless you have a system in place which effectively provides a regular health checkup for your intranet.
This post provides a methodology which will enable you to do just that – the Intranet Heath Check.
I stumbled across this technique when carrying out some user research in one of our sites and the intranet webmaster who was my tour guide for the day kept bumping into people she knew in the elevator (or lift in the UK). She asked them what they thought of the intranet and I was really surprised at how much information could be transferred in a very short time. I also got the feeling that, as time was short, users had little time to be polite and so I got a better picture of their true feelings.
A good intranet can only be built on the foundation of solid user research. James Robertson talks about this in his excellent article Conducting intranet needs analysis . James discusses several methodologies that can be used but the one I want to focus on is what James calls ‘contextual enquiry’ .
To quote James directly –
‘(Contextual enquiry) is a combination of staff interviews and workplace observation that involves exploring issues with a staff member, while situated within their normal working environment. By conducting the interview ‘in context’, it becomes possible to see the resources used by staff when conducting work activities.
The interviewer can also ask the staff member to show them how they complete specific activities, for example, showing how they find a piece of information on the intranet.’
Over the years I’ve found contextual enquiry to be by far the most illuminating, innovative and motivating experience associated with intranet user research.