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Analyse a research session
User research activities produce a lot of raw data, for example:
- written and digital notes
- sketches and photos
- audio and video recordings
You need to filter, organise and interpret this data so you can produce useful insights that will help you design and deliver your service.
Meeting the Digital Service Standard
To pass point 1 (understand user needs) in your service assessments you must show that you’ve developed a deep understanding of your users, including those with the lowest level of digital access, skill and literacy.
Plan analysis sessions
Invite anyone who observed the user research to take part in the analysis session. You should do analysis as soon as you can after each round of research, while it is still fresh in people’s minds.
Involving lots of people helps your team make better decision. It reduces the risk of researcher bias and limits the influence of individual team members or stakeholders. It also means you can decide as a group what the next most important thing to work on should be.
Aim to spend 1 hour analysing every 2 hours of research.
Follow these steps to gather observations:
Hand out sticky notes (use just one colour).
Ask people to review their notes and write down anything interesting or relevant that they saw or heard during the session.
If you have recordings, make them available so people can confirm their observations and get verbatim quotes.
Tell the group to use a single note for each observation and write exactly what they saw or heard (eg verbatim quotes or observed behaviour), not what they think it means. This way, the notes will be unbiased and can represent the voice of the user.
Capturing observations during research sessions
If your team is experienced and you’re doing research in a lab, they may be able to capture their observations on sticky notes during the session itself.
This only works for lab-based sessions because it’s difficult with most research methods to know which observations are important until you’ve reviewed all the data.
Once they’ve written down their observations, ask your team members to place their sticky notes on a wall and start sorting them into similar themes, for example:
- common topics (eg identity, delivery, payment)
- stages in a user journey (eg ‘provide photo’, attend interview’, ‘pay’)
- individual pages or steps in a transaction
- types of user (eg personas)
Allow people to move notes placed by other people. The idea is to look for patterns or clusters, and to keep moving the notes until clear groups emerge. This is often called ‘affinity diagramming’ or ‘affinity sorting’.
Name your groups
Once you have your groups, agree a title for each. At this stage, you can discard irrelevant or isolated notes. You should also check if you can break any large groups into smaller themes based on matching observations.
For example, if users have to provide a photo to use your service, you might have a ‘photos’ group that could broken down into:
- photo rules and requirements
- using a photo booth or high street photographer
- taking a photo at home
- reasons a photo might be rejected
The final part of analysis involves reviewing the notes in each group to determine what the observations are telling you.
When you agree on what you’ve learned, write it as a finding or ‘insight’ on a different coloured sticky note and add it to the relevant group.
You should write findings as short statements that summarise what you’ve learned, for example:
- ‘the legal declaration is threatening and difficult to understand’
- ‘people think they can click the progress bar to navigate’
- ‘users are confused about what’s required because so many questions are optional’
You can use your findings to make decisions about what to work on, change or research next. This supports the agile method of planning continuously based on new facts or requirements.
As a group, discuss if there are any obvious actions you want to take. Write these on a third colour sticky note and add it to the relevant group.
These might include:
- new design ideas to work on
- new questions to include in user research
- things you want to change in a prototype and test in another research session
- new user stories to add to the product backlog
- new details you need to add to an existing story
- strategic insights you can use to develop your user needs, proposition or product roadmap
Share your findings
After analysing your research, you should write up your findings so you can share them with the wider team and stakeholders.
Case studies and examples
To learn more about analysing user research sessions:
- find out how GDS does research analysis in agile
- see how to use sticky notes effectively when analysing research
- find out why user researchers at the Department for Work and Pensions rely on insights
- find out how to do large-scale group analysis of user research data
- Published by:
- User research community
- Last update:
Guidance first published