Elizabeth Finn Fund Redesign: Weeknotes 02

Weeknotes 02 - What’s our approach to User Research?

This article is 20 months old


I’m Emma Diamond, a designer/researcher from Noisy Cricket, the design and research agency commissioned by Turn2us to facilitate the process and run research on their behalf.  

Remind me about the research… 

For more detail about the context, background and project decisions made so far, do take a look at our first weeknote here.

In this weeknote, I’ll be taking you through the approach for our user research with our potential future audience: single-parent families from minoritised ethnic groups, specifically those with Black African, Black Caribbean, Bangladeshi, Pakistani backgrounds who have experienced financial shocks or crises. 

We explain how we came to define this audience in the first weeknote, but just for a quick reminder: we are actively shifting the focus of the programme to support groups and communities who are most impacted by financial shocks. Our research shows that single parent families from minoritised ethnic groups, specifically those with Black African, Black Caribbean, Bangladeshi, Pakistani backgrounds, are particularly affected by financial insecurity due to structural inequalities.  

We are now looking to do some paid research with these groups to understand their needs and the barriers that make it hard for them to access financial support. We will then use this insight to inform our grant design to ensure it will be as accessible and supportive as possible for our future target audience. 

How are you going to approach tough conversations? 

We're very aware that financial insecurity and structural inequalities are tough topics to talk about and talking to people who have experienced crises has the potential to re-traumatise. This risk is particularly heightened in the current climate of the cost-of-living crisis. With this in mind, we conducted desk research and spoke to experts to explore how we could apply a ‘trauma-informed design approach’ to our research. For those interested in this topic, we’d recommend blogs written by the amazing Hera Hussain here and the wonderful Jane Murison here.  

Using our learning from this research, we planned an approach to ensure we were creating safe spaces and safeguarding our participants much as possible, at each stage of the research process.

Our approach in four stages
1 Recruitment  2 Pre-interview  3 Interview  4 Post-interview 
We will articulate who we would like to speak to and how clearly and plainly. We will ask to speak to people who are in a relatively stable place and no longer in crisis.  We will share the consent form with participants in advance and give them a chance to review and consider it.  We will review boundaries at the start of the session and ensure the participant knows they can pause or stop at any time.  We will set in place a post-session protocol, to include thank you emails, information on when we will get back in touch to share output, next steps etc., relevant signposting and further safeguarding steps should they be required. 
We will recruit via known partners who are clear on Turn2us' aims, goals and parameters around research vs. grant support  Remind them that we are only experts in the process for sharing people's stories, but they are experts in their own experience, which is hugely valuable.  We will build 2-3 check-ins into the interview to pause, breathe and see how we're doing.  We will ensure there is a named contact at Turn2us to follow up on any future involvement the participant wanted e.g. future involvement in research, hearing about the outputs etc 
  We will share our plan for the session with participants (at least the topic list), asking participants what they think of it. We'll also reinforce the idea of them being experts by including questions in advance around what they would like to share vs. what they don't want to share in the session.  We will focus on asking questions that respect the boundaries outlined by the participant. We will use language that empowers participants to share their story with a sense of agency. We'll use questions that nudge participants to think about what would they like to see happen, while giving them an opportunity to talk about challenges in a rebuilding way. However, we recognise that we want to offer people a safe space to share whatever they feel would be useful and to ensure they feel validated in doing so.  We will consider setting up our protocol in partnership with partners, so that support can be provided via existing support networks. thank you emails, we will leave any post-session check-ins to the referral partner. 
  Make clear that we can't promise this process will help them - this is research, a way to platform people's stories and experiences, not direct support. But that together we can share stories that will help the next person.  We will aim to facilitate a conversation that does not perpetuate traumatising experiences in their past e.g. sharing their story with DWP etc. We'll do this via facilitating a timeline activity to allow people to organise what has happened to them chronologically, ending with a focus on the future and more positive goal-setting. We'll then encourage them to map the high points, low points of their experience, giving them the option to choose what to go deeper on and what to avoid discussing.  Researcher to discuss session with team member to share insights, sense-check approach and download anything distressing or troubling. 
  We will offer a pre-interview call to run through all the materials and ask questions regarding boundaries.  Towards the end of the session we will aim to shift the energy towards the present or future to decompress.   

We are currently applying this approach to the research we are doing now and testing what works and what doesn't. We’ll let you know our process of learning in the next weeknote. 

What are you trying to learn? 

For the actual interviews, we’ve planned out several lines of enquiry or research objectives. We then translated these into digestible and appropriate questions to use in the sessions. 

For example, here’s a sample of our research plan: 

Research Objectives: To understand the experiences, needs and barriers to access of our future target audience for the redesigned EFF. This insight will enable us to design and build a more inclusive and accessible fund that enables the most impacted people to gain the support they want and achieve their goals.

Research Lines of Enquiry:  

  • What has helped and hindered our target audience when living through financial shocks and crises? 
  • What do our target audience need when experiencing financial insecurity? 
  • For example:  
    • To build self-esteem 
    • Feel empowered and set goals for the future 
    • Connect with community (establish a support network) 
    • Feel supported to make positive financial decisions 
    • Access mental health support 
  • What is the experience of our target group accessing financial support? 
  • What is the context within which our target audience are applying for financial support? 

We’ve translated these questions into a rough discussion guide to discuss with research participants. Here’s an example of what we are sharing with participants before the session to hopefully put them at ease and empower them to ask questions.

Warm-up - We will check-in, introduce ourselves, discuss how we’re feeling today and talk about what you would like to get out of the session.  

Goals/dreams - We can start the conversation by talking about any goals and dreams for the future you are currently working towards, that you feel able to share. 

Experience of financial insecurity/applying for support  - We will then begin talking about financial insecurity and applying for support and your experience of these things. What we talk about and the depth of detail we go into is totally up to you. Before we begin discussing this topic, we will pause to see how we're feeling and decide together what you would like to talk about. We may then go on to discuss what more support you would have wanted when accessing financial help. 

Wrap-up and check-out - We’ll finish up by reviewing what we’ve done together, how we’re feeling and discuss next steps for the project.

To boil it all down to one essential principle; we will only ask and encourage participants to discuss questions that they feel comfortable with and how we structure the session is ultimately up to participants. 

What are you doing next? 

We’re right in the thick of conducting this research now, aiming to finish analysis, synthesis and share the results with our working group in an Insight Review workshop in early November. We will share the outcomes of that session via weeknotes soon! As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to email us here and keep an eye on this blog for future weeknote updates.