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Research alignment workshop

As researchers, it's our role to collect meaningful information about our users and problem space so that our team can make better product decisions. To do this effectively, we must involve team members and stakeholders in the development of our initial research strategy.

A research alignment workshop publicizes team questions and prioritizes research themes, setting you up to create a research plan that drives maximum value for your team.

What you'll need

  • 1 hour with all key stakeholders + 15 minutes of prep-work
  • A large room with plenty of white board space
  • A dedicated note-taker (since you'll be playing the facilitator role, it's extremely helpful to have someone to help you document the session)
  • Post-it notes
  • Sharpies
  • Whiteboard markers
  • Dot voting stickers

Prep-work - 10-15 minutes

In the workshop, participants (including you!) will be sharing their burning research questions with the team. Prior to the workshop day, have each team member spend 10-15 minutes on a short homework assignment to maximize the efficiency of your workshop and ensure that team members bring thoughtful questions to the session.

Assignment template

Over the next [timeframe] we'll be working together to [key project objectives]. I'm sure you have a ton of questions you'd like answered about [key user groups] and [experience under study]. To prepare for our Research Alignment Workshop on [date], please take some time to document these questions.


  1. Set a timer for 5 minutes
  2. Brainstorm questions that you feel we need answered in order to create a successful [feature, product, idea]
  3. Select your top questions (3-5) and write them on sticky notes (1 question per sticky)
  4. Bring your top questions to the session
  5. Spend no more than 15 minutes on this activity!

Note: Calendar blocking, slack reminders, and in-person reminders are all really effective ways to ensure that your team members complete their homework!

Opening ~ 5 minutes

Open with a brief discussion about the need for collaboration in the development of a solid research strategy (research success = team success). Then, spend a few minutes on the following:

  • Discuss the workshop objectives:
    • Share and discuss key questions
    • Align on most important research themes
    • Prioritize research themes and determine study scope
  • Discuss mindset/participation expectations: This is a collaborative activity that requires active participation and focus from all involved.

Question sharing ~ 25 minutes

At this time, you'll ask the group to get out their post-it notes. Team members will each take a turn acting as the reader, while the rest of the group will act as the listeners.

The reader: Read the question out loud. Then, repeat it so the group can fully absorb the question.

The listeners: Discuss the question and its merits, Record offshoot questions.

The facilitator: If necessary, probe the reader about the intent of their question. Keep in mind that people's questions may not reflect what they actually want to know. They may be leading or completely misdirected - it's your job to understand the spirit behind the question and work with the reader to rephrase their question, if necessary.

Example You're developing a mentorship tool to connect youth with adult mentors in a field of interest.

Reader: My question to our young users is, "How often do you meet with adults 1:1, in person?"

Facilitator: Interesting, what were your thoughts going into that question?

Reader: Well, I'm asking because I think that in-person meetings are one of the ways to develop trust between two people and our tool should probably have some kind of 1:1 component.

Facilitator: It sounds like you're interested in is understanding how trust is formed between youths and adults.

Reader: Yes, definitely. We should be able to create a trusting environment in our product.

Facilitator: Great, let's rephrase your question. On a new sticky note you can write, "What are drivers of trust in youth-adult relationships?"

In this example, our reader just needed some guidance to articulate their question. In this way, we have empowered the reader and given them ownership over their question. We have also turned the workshop into a learning activity for the entire group, providing them hands-on practice to create well-developed research questions (just some of the sneaky side benefits of the workshop).

After a few people have shared, you will start to see similar questions emerge. Continue to group post-its into themes as the activity progresses. Allow a few minutes for the group to share any new questions that were sparked while listening to their colleagues. Once you have all your questions on the board and grouped into themes, you can move onto the next phase of the activity.

Prioritization and voting ~ 20 minutes

"You can do anything - but not everything" - David Allen

Spend a few minutes reviewing your themes and naming them appropriately. Instruct the group that they will be voting on themes they feel would be of most value to the design process, since we won't be able to explore everything.

Give everyone 6 dot voting stickers and 3 votes - 3 for the highest priority, 2 for medium and 1 for lowest priority.

Tally up the dots and prioritize your research scope. Depending on the length of your research phase and the resources available to you, you may choose multiple research themes to explore.

Note: Be direct and honest about the scope you will take on (and what you won't!), as you will be held accountable for delivering on these promises.

After the workshop ~ 10 minutes

Immediately following the workshop, document everything! Record all key questions, themes and prioritization. Send a follow-up e-mail to your team reviewing the research scope you've committed to. You're now ready to begin the research planning phase!

Additional workshop benefits

  • Research education: If facilitated correctly, the workshop also provides a practical lesson in developing good research questions. Ideally, team members walk away with a new appreciation for this skillset and will approach research with more thoughtful questions in the future!
  • Team ownership over research strategy: The team has co-created the research strategy and is bought into the process. They now know which themes will be explored and understand what kind of data they can expect as a result of the research. This also increases the likelihood that they will engage with user interviews and data analysis.
  • Reduces research scope creep: Because you've given the team an opportunity to voice their questions and concerns, you have reduced the chance for stakeholders to slip new questions into your discussion guides and surveys later on.
  • A documented process: Capturing the meaningful conversations around scope allows you to confidently answer questions from stakeholders that may arise later on, such as,"why didn't we explore [topic]" or "I thought we were going to ask users about [topic]"


This workshop template is courtesy of Danielle Juneau and The Working Group. The template originally appears in The Working Group's user research playbook.

18F User Experience Design Guide

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