Sometimes, as a UX Researcher, you have to work with what you’ve got, which means you have to make do with a less than ideal situation. Anyone in the business of doing research has surely encountered some all too familiar constraints - whether that be in the form of time, participant pool, access - you name it. In this post, I’ll share my experience in the realm of Rodeo UX - namely, conducting in-depth interviews in a group setting. I’ll present two sets of strategies pertaining to prep and fielding to smooth along a potentially wild ride.
Welcome to the Rodeo
Born of practices of cattle herding and imported from Spain and Mexico, rodeo is a sporting event involving horses and livestock, which tests the skill of cow-folk in various events. Talk of rodeo often conjures the image of a bucking horse and rider (now associated with the great state of Wyoming).
UX and rodeo may seem slightly at odds, but I coined the term “Rodeo UX” here to evoke that same test of grit and skill, though admittedly in a much different arena. To wrangle is to herd and care for, to take charge of - it’s a soft skill that’s hugely important in UX, specifically in a context with many different actors. Rodeo UX can take many forms, but in this post, I will be focusing on said experience as it pertains to conducting focus groups or capturing group interview data. Here are a few strategies that have helped me lean into the process.
Put Your Boots On: Rodeo Prep
A major takeaway from my most recent Rodeo UX experience has been the need for constant flexibility - which requires total preparation. Here are a few tactical preparation strategies that have helped me to keep my cool during challenging sessions.
#1. Have multiple versions of the same moderator guide
Having multiple versions of your guide allows you to pivot on a dime, time and time again. Your participants likely will not have a uniform body of knowledge - set yourself up for success by creating scripts to engage with each varietal to operationalize as needed. Sometimes, you don’t know what you’re walking into - but when you’ve built out your guide to handle every possible scenario, you’re prepared for a wild ride - and will likely be pleasantly surprised by your own success!
#2. Send a quick and dirty pre-session survey
While not feasible for every situation, you may find it useful to gather a little information about your participants by sending out a pre-interview survey to collect pertinent details about skillset, job title, years of experience - you name it! Whatever differentiating information you need, you can ask for it in the pre-session survey and fill out your note sheet ahead of time.
#3. Leverage social media to get to know your participants before sessions
If you have access to information that would allow you to get to know your participant a little, you can fill out your note sheet ahead of time with relevant information about job title or skill set based on their LinkedIn profile. This is especially useful when preparing for group sessions, so that you may better tailor your questions to the individual with the appropriate technical and domain expertise. You can lean on this information throughout the session. This is especially useful if you are unable to collect pre-session survey information.
Buckle Up: How to Hang On In the Arena
Sometimes, despite all your prepwork, things don’t go according to plan. Here are a few strategies I have called on “in the arena” to keep the process running smoothly.
#1. Popcorn introductions
Sometimes, there may be some additional guests who show up - or even some expected guests who are unable to make it. In these instances, I open my sessions by popcorning participants for a few key pieces of information (e.g. the kind of info I’d have collected in a pre-interview survey). I jot this down and refer to it throughout the session, so that I can better target my questions to the appropriate individual.
#2. Call participants by their name
In large sessions, I explain at the outset that due to the size of the call and our limited time together, I’ll likely call on participants as well as raise my hand to get us back on track if necessary. Throughout the session, I refer to my notes from the popcorn introductions, and call on various people by name to speak to their experience.
#3. Be upfront about what you don’t know
Sometimes, a participant may think you’re a bit daft for not understanding the ins and outs of the field they’ve spent years of their career working in. Pre-empt this at the outset, by telling your participants that you are NOT a subject matter expert, and that you may ask them about a concept that feels fairly obvious to them - “just bear with me.” During the session, I’ll sometimes hedge a question by reminding the participant that “this is going to be one of those ‘not a subject matter expert’ questions I warned you about,” laugh a little, and lean into my ignorance. This generally breaks the tension. I’ve noticed that sometimes, the “no duh” questions for a subject matter expert can feel like a trap - if you feel a question could create doubt or confusion for your participant, lead with an admission of ignorance. People like to be helpful - remind them that they are teaching you something valuable, something you didn’t know until they told you.
After the Show
Fielding for individual data in a group session is a challenging way to do research, but sometimes, there are constraints that make it impossible to schedule sessions with each individual participant. Like anything, there is a learning curve, but if you show up with some reliable strategies in your back pocket, you can handle a challenging session. Rodeo UX requires versatility, flexibility, and some creative on-the-spot problem solving.
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