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What I’ve learned about panel management in a growing research team – Part Two

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Jason Stockwell continues with his blog about managing user research panels. In the second and final part, he discusses the challenge of constant recruitment, how to bring teams together and the prospect of personal burnout.

In the first part of this blog, I explained what happens when a user research project grows suddenly, and quickly, and how this needs to be managed to keep things on track.

In this post I’ll be reflecting on the challenge of constant recruitment, how to bring teams together and the prospect of personal burnout.

Constant recruitment

When a panel is being used by over 15 researchers working in sprints, constant recruitment is a guarantee. This means a refreshed panel needs recruitment from external sources. As well as this constant replenishing of the panel, the way we request panellist needs updating.

  • Recruitment requests. To access the panellists for upcoming research, every researcher currently fills out a recruitment brief specifying the profile they are looking to target. We are then able to segment the panel so we can invite participants for relevant research. We currently work to a six day lead time, meaning six days after the initial brief is received, we anticipate getting our first sessions booked in. On the programme, we also have a weekly call to understand upcoming research, this is to see if we are targeting the same profiles, and whether we can combine efforts to find participants or share recommendations on how to find people for sessions.

Pulling teams together

The team that engages externally goes beyond user researchers. Aligning social research, communications teams, operability colleagues and digital with forums and engagement groups encourages collaboration across the teams.

The panel can’t facilitate contact for all of these teams, but with these tools across a unified team we can find more participants to take part in research sessions to grow the panel and share insights across user researchers (and beyond through the wider team).

  • Know who your allies are. The first step with cross team alignment is understanding who is going to fight your corner. These people might not be the most senior people on the programme, but they’re the people that care about why the programme is happening. That passion and drive for change enables the panel to grow beyond a recruitment tool, and more towards an enabler of research.

Changing processes

When we first started on the programme, a panel manager took the recruitment pillar of research operations completely away from user researchers, helping with consent forms, note taking, through to research libraries and compiling insights.

This full service is no longer possible, we need to think about what elements in that process are essential and what is desirable.

  • What is the minimum service? We have mapped out what a panel manager job role is, but with less researchers we have the luxury of expanding more to that service, from managing advertising to helping support requests from the panel.

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Currently on the programme, we’re working in a more limited way, panel managers cannot attend sessions or support with consent forms, so we have found automation and workarounds within the process to optimise the service needed for user researchers.

  • How can we make this process consistent? After we define processes and how this looks on the programme, we need to look at how this is going to look for each researcher; a process isn’t a process if it is never followed, but we do need to be consistent with some elements and flexible with others.

There are differences in the ways the team access processes, these are based on tech and tools the team have access to. For example, some members of the team do not have Qualtrics access, so consent forms need to be automated to some of the researchers, where others can log in and access their consent forms online.

We need to be certain about where we need to follow process, and where we can flex to suit specific researcher’s existing processes.

Personal burnout

With the fluctuations in workload over the sprints, and uncertainty on long-term projects, comes stress. Being aware of the peaks and troughs involved with incoming panel requests, and the constant need to support user researchers in sourcing participants for research, these factors all impact personal wellbeing and burnout.

  • When to step away. You’re not going to get everyone in industry on the panel. Different people have different impressions of Defra and not everyone wants to get involved in voluntary research. You need to know when you have done everything you can to get people involved in research.

Ultimately, the responses you have about taking part in research, is research.

This comes on to the next point around saying no. Sometimes it’s impossible to fill research slots. Making this clear up front after the brief can help set expectations and relieve some pressure from research teams.

Jason Stockwell is the user research panel manager on the Collection and Packaging Reforms and Waste programme.

If you are interested in becoming a User Researcher in Defra Digital Data and Technology, check our jobs page to see the latest vacancies.

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  1. Comment by Steven posted on

    Hi Jason. Thanks for sharing. There are so many moving parts when it comes to recruitment. I think it's one of the most demanding roles in research ops. Even more so when you are recruiting niche, hard-to-reach profiles.

    What are you having the most success in reaching quotas? Moderated or unmoderated research methods?

    Thanks, Steven

    • Replies to Steven>

      Comment by Jason posted on

      Hi Stephen

      Is it a cop out to say "it depends".

      There are a lot of factors around the audience to consider when reaching quotas, We don't often struggle to fill moderated sessions, the panel has a good level of engagement and (particularly in waste) participants are over keen to get involved.

      Where we might struggle is in finding people who are the non-compliant users who have a negative view on regulations and what government are doing.

      Hope this helps!