This overview will help you learn about how we conduct research on VA digital services. See the research checklist to help you plan the specifics of your research.

FAQs

What do I need to do to get research started?

You’ll need:

Do I need to have my prototype reviewed by the Collaboration Cycle before including it in a usabiity test?

Yes, if part of your plan includes showing participants a prototype, you’ll need to have the thing you're testing ready and reviewed by the Collaboration Cycle a week (minimum) before starting your research sessions. This will typically be a Midpoint Review. This will ensure that what you’re showing Veterans meets the VA.gov quality standards.

Can I use transcription software?

No matter what kind of research you are doing, any service you use should be something VA approves AND something either VA or the contract team has a PAID contract for. There’s no such thing as a free online service - that service gets your data when you use them for transcription or other tools. If you upload a session that contains PII, PHI, etc. it will put us at risk.

What do I do with my recordings?
  • As a lead researcher, it is your responsibility to download any recordings you need for synthesis and destroy the files when you are done.

  • Do NOT post your session recordings to GitHub or Slack.

  • If you want to keep a clip for communication purposes, it is YOUR responsibility as the lead researcher to strip the video clip of PII or PHI.

Useful terms

Project brief

Completed by team lead or PM, outlines strategy and timeline for product. Should be a .md file stored in the Github project folder.

Research plan

Completed by researcher. Outlines goals, methodology, recruiting strategy, and synthesis plan for research. It should be a .md file stored in the project's research folder and referenced in all research tickets. This enables visibility into the team's research process and progress.

Conversation guide

Completed by the moderator. A script that organizes how you'd like each user research session to go. The moderator should plan to use it during each session and read directly from it.

Research issues/tickets

Teams can create GitHub Issues within their project to manage their process for research.

Synthesis documentation

This can be Excel files, links to Reframer, a Mural or Realtimeboard, or .md files. It should be whatever the designer/researcher needs it to be to analyze and evaluate research results and determine recommendations and next steps. It should live in the project research folder and be linked to from the research findings document.

Research findings

Completed by the researcher that states the goals, hypotheses, and key findings of the research. It also provides links to resources used throughout the process including conversation guides, notes, synthesis documentation, etc. It should be a .md file that's stored in the project folder, which enables easier discovery of findings via keywords.


Make a plan

Research plan

Taking the time to plan your research is an essential first step. Use this research plan template to guide you through decisions about your research:

  • What are your research goals?

  • What methodology will you use? (More on that below.)

  • Who do you want to talk to?

  • What is your timing?

  • Who will do what during the sessions?

Your research plan will become the doc you use to plan your study and the documentation that project teams, research, UX lead, leadership, et al., use to find your research in the future. Add anything you need to make this document work for you. If your team creates research issues or epics, you can cross-reference your research-plan.md file in that as well. Discuss your research plan with your team.

Conversation guide

Once you've filled out your research plan, write a conversation guide. Use this conversation guide template as a starting place. Generally, the moderator should write the conversation guide.

A conversation guide is a script that organizes how you'd like each user research session to go. The moderator should plan to use it during each session and read directly from it. Feel free to go off-script and follow the natural flow of the conversation.

These are most commonly used in moderated research sessions but can be adapted as instructions given to the user in unmoderated sessions if necessary.

Pro tips:

  • When drafting questions, write down every question you can think of and get input from all team members. Organize later.

  • When organizing, start with high level and general questions, then get more specific.

  • Always begin with an intro that sets the stage (you can start with the intro included in the template)

Get your prototype ready

If part of your plan includes showing participants a prototype, have the thing you're testing ready and reviewed by the Collaboration Cycle a week (minimum) before starting your research sessions. This will typically be a midpoint review. This will ensure that what you’re showing Veterans meets the VA.gov quality standards.


Recruit participants

OCTO has a contract with Perigean Technologies to help us recruit, screen, gather consent forms, and schedule research sessions with Veterans. To start recruiting participants for your study, refer to the research checklist.

Learn more about recruiting for different research methods


Run a pilot session

Run a pilot/test session before your study, including Perigean's team, so you rehearse the process of logging in, get any conversation guide kinks worked out, understand how to hand off mouse controls, and have a participant show their screen. Perigean can help schedule the pilot.

The recommendation is to recruit one of your developers as a pilot participant, to get them involved early in the process. If that doesn't work, feel free to ask someone on Platform or one of your design colleagues to act as a pilot participant.

You can send guidelines about participating in a pilot before the test session.


Conduct sessions

When it finally comes time to conduct your research sessions, there are logistics to consider from getting participants connected on mobile devices to communicate with your team during the session. You’ll also want to be aware of what you might expect when doing research with Veterans.

Learn more about conducting research sessions.


Synthesize data

It's best to conduct synthesis as soon as possible after finishing your research sessions when everything is fresh in folks' minds.

  • If you have a preferred way of doing synthesis: consider how you might involve remote team members in that process so they have buy-in to the outcomes.

  • If you do NOT have a preferred way of doing synthesis or want help, check with other designers on your contract.


Share your findings with colleagues

It's important to share what you've learned in your research, not just with your team but also with your design colleagues and stakeholders too. Many times what you learn can be helpful to other current and future projects. See the research checklist for more details.

The focus of your findings should be on the digital experience. When you learn about something that isn't digital experience related but could improve lives of veterans, first share with your PO. If it is actionable and you'd like to present your findings outside of your team or practice area, your PO should first discuss it with their portfolio lead.