User research: the 'discovery' phase

Following our first blog post announcing a project to create a new set of digital content and services for the Grotowski Institute, over the next few weeks we’ll be covering some selected details of the user research we’re conducting as part of the development process.

This time we’ll be discussing the early user research that forms the ‘discovery phase’ of the project. Generally, this phase involves finding out as much as we can about the people who are likely to use (or be interested in using) the planned service, how those people’s needs or interests are currently served, what could prevent them from being able to pursue their needs and interests, and what the prospective users want to accomplish and to what ends.

The opening scope of the Polish project was set out in considerable technical detail according to our colleagues’ initial assumptions and expectations, which — in an ‘agile’ development process — it’s our task to translate into a series of narrative requirements (‘user stories’) based on the actions and benefits that the end users would like to realize.

We began in April and May 2018 by trying to learn more about these people through various research activities, in order to be able to formulate a series of ‘personas’ — with associated backgrounds, professions, barriers to access, and wants — that could represent a broad range of potential users of the e-services. For each initial assumption or specification in the briefing we also developed one or more user stories that would express the aims of those personas and the benefits they’d be looking to achieve as a result of their online interactions. The stories were small, so that they could be linked to specific wants throughout a person’s everyday pathways and behaviours on the project website. They were also testable, so that they could be continually checked against people’s real-world motivations and linked to delivering clear outcomes that we’d be able to mark off as accomplished once they could be consistently achieved via the services we were creating.

We’ll be sharing more about parts of this research and testing process over the summer, but for now we’ll just touch on the initial stage of capturing the main questions we’d need to investigate. The high-priority areas for the Grotowski Institute were clearly expressed in terms of taking their mission and programmes to their target communities in new ways, based on new standards for sharing and re-using cultural and academic content online. However, our first task on the project was to go from receiving the briefing and initial expectations of the Institute to understanding the priority areas for members of those target communities, so that we could develop the e-services in ways that are responsive to these.

Since a key aim of the project was to help connect content creators working in areas related to the Institute’s programme with both local and international audiences, it made sense to begin from considering what kinds of content users want to access online and in what formats, whether (or how) they can currently access it, what impediments there are to this access, and how we might create new channels for widening and improving such access. Most of this investigatory work has taken place so far in workshops, conversations, online exchanges, reviews of previous user research materials, and observation. However, in the next two posts we’ll be discussing a particular area of research that requires us to broaden the conversation and take it beyond the Institute’s immediate locale: how to build and improve cross-cultural channels for performance work, knowledge, and know-how.

Duncan Jamieson

TAPAC: Theatre and Performance Across Cultures, 86-90 Paul Street, London, EC2A 4NE, United Kingdom