Posted by: bbannan | April 10, 2012

Published Information and Consultants: You Don’t Need To Reinvent The Wheel! – Lisa

 I’ve learned over the years that if you want someone to pay attention to your message you get the important details out first.  I find this is often an issue in emails.  People go on about all the small details and the point that they really care about is buried somewhere in the middle so you miss it when you skim through the bulk of the minutia. 

 While this chapter is focusing on using already published information and contracted professionals to help with data collection, I really felt that this point is relevant in every area of project development and if you always keep it in the back of your mind you’ll work smarter so more of your time and energy can be devoted to getting to the essence of the project.

 In the world of user research I think it’s unlikely that you’ll find an exact match for what you need in data that has been previously published, but this can still be useful in helping to narrow your focus.  It seems to me that using contract researchers is a more viable option for getting relevant data in our arena of usability testing and user research.

 Some Key Points to Remember When Deciding to use Contract Researchers

Timing: Make the decision early in your process.  The research will still require a considerable amount of time and you don’t want to get balled-up because you waited too long to get things rolling.

 Expectations: Setting reasonable expectations is crucial in so many areas of research (not to mention life in general).  Unrealistic, unreasonable, or incongruous expectations between you and your contractors is likely result in a waste of time, energy, and money.  Understand that they are going to have different perspectives which you should use to enrich your knowledge not replace it.

 Selection: Choose your contractors wisely.  They are likely to have general areas of expertise.  This can be very helpful for providing you with assistance in selecting a solution that is more likely to be effective in a given situation.  Whether you use a formal RFP (request for Proposal) method or an informal email/referral system, spend your effort here on the frontend to ensure you get what you need on the backend.

Summary of Pros and Cons to using Research Contractors


  • Save Time
  • Save Money
  • Save Energy
  • Get data you can’t get on your own
  • Outsiders provide a high level of perspective unlike internal personnel
  • Provides a high level overview that can be used to provide focus for internal research


  • Data collection must be closely monitored to ensure it is trustworthy
  • Data collection must be closely monitored to ensure it is appropriately targeting your needs
  • There is a potential for interpretation bias using personnel who are less familiar with the content area
  • There may be a greater need for management of outside resources

The bottom line is that contractors are not miracle workers and using them does not necessarily make data collection easier.  You will still need to be closely involved in the process to ensure the data is usable.

 Remember: You Don’t Need To Reinvent The Wheel.

 Additional Resources:

American Education Research Association

This is an interesting site with a lot of information.  What drew me to it in relation to using contractors and previously published information for usability research is their DissertationGrants competition which “seeks to stimulate research on U.S. education issues using data from the large-scale, national and international data sets supported by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), NSF, and other federal agencies, and to increase the number of education researchers using these data sets.”

National Center for Education Statistics

As stated on their website; “The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education.” 

This is a link to a paper that explores research contracting.

 The Outsourcing Institute

This group is focused on business process outsourcing instead of research, but a lot of the information is applicable.  This in particular is a link to some “Top 10” lists related to successful outsourcing.


Kuniavsky, M. (2003). Observing the user experience: a practitioner’s guide to user research. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.



  1. Hi Lisa,

    I really enjoyed reading your summary. Your list of pros and cons to using research contractors was a great approach to summarizing the information.

    I agree using contract researchers would be a great resource for usability testing…just think of how helpful it would be to have contract researchers for our usability testing we could gather more data and still manage to update our prototype.

    Thanks for including your resources and short summaries!

    • Hi Jennifer,

      Thanks for your feedback!
      I would LOVE to have contractors to help us, but then again, we’d have to manage them and sometimes I’m not sure which is preferable!

  2. Hi Lisa,
    What a great summary … and right to the points. You actually followed your own advice and grabbed my attention with your opening sentences. I found your pro and con lists to be especially helpful. We have to do a balancing act, right? Weighing those benefits against the logistics of managing those “outsiders” and their work.

    Thanks fior the great list of resources!

    Great post! Mimi

    • Thanks, Mimi. I’m glad you found this helpful..and to the point!

  3. Great post, Lisa! I found this other blog post about outsourcing user research that is from the point of view of the contractor. The author’s company used to do user research for other companies, but discovered that this was not usually an effective approach because those companies often didn’t read their reports or implement changes based on the results. The author emphasizes the importance of the client maintaining direct contact with their users throughout the research process. I completely agree with your recommendation for IDs who outsource their user research to stay involved as much as possible. I would also advise them to have a clearly documented plan for how they intend to act on the results. Like you said, outsourcing your research should not be a replacement for your own research, analysis, or involvement with your users.

  4. Thanks for the additional resource! It’s an interesting article. I was particularly amused that the teams receiving the data were happy with the work even though it didn’t result in improved designs. That’s really interesting and it really speaks to the need for truly analyzing the content and its usefulness.

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