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Research lead (role description)

While being mindful that 18F practices research as a team sport, research leads should:

  • Set the research agenda. Determine the team’s research needs (for example, inform its anticipated design decisions [Mule Design's Medium post] or validate its riskiest assumptions), and propose right-sized studies to address them, highlighting cost and trade-offs. Identify allies who will advocate for research. If stakeholders exhibit resistance, identify the sources of that resistance and develop appropriate responses.

  • Educate others on the role, types, and methods of research. Help the team understand the different types of research (foundational, generative, evaluative), and why specific research 18f design methods apply. Explain how to employ specific methods. Facilitate research retrospectives to encourage reflective practice.

  • Identify and recruit a diverse and representative group of people to participate in design research. Set up repeatable participant recruiting processes. Help the team understand the importance of diversity in recruiting.

  • Keep the team's research on track and on time. Plan for and execute studies around shared goals with predictable scope. Incorporate asynchronous tasks like “homework”, diary studies, etc. to make the best use of everyone’s time. Encourage collaborative research analysis (see 18f blog) and synthesis, and help the team manage transitions between learning and building.

  • Maintain quality. Identify and mitigate risks to quality design research, such as ethics, bias, and privacy and legal risk (for example, help the team understand how to conduct research that is Paperwork Reduction Act-compliant by design). Ensure rigor with checklists [18F design methods].

  • Make research visible. Inspire others to adopt a richer and more nuanced perspective of the people for whom they’re solving problems. Help people take findings back to the organization in a way that can be acted upon. Update project-level onboarding, knowledge management, etc. to reflect the research done to date.


This document was informed descriptions of research and researchers mentioned in Erika Hall’s Just Enough Research and Steve Portigal’s Interviewing Users. See also Dave Hora's The researcher’s journey: leveling up as a user researcher.

18F User Experience Guide

An official website of the GSA’s Technology Transformation Services

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