A clear Study Plan and expected needs for learning in Cadenced User Studies require that each given research interview has a plan for how it will unfold. After conducting interviews, you may need to adapt that plan, your protocol, depending on issues or opportunities to run strong interviews raised in a prior Interview Debrief.
Research questions and study plans identify what we need to learn and which methods we’ll use to uncover that information; they don’t account for how, specifically moderated research methods are to be conducted. There is still a gap between ‘what we need to learn’ and the details of ‘how we do that’, down to the level of potential questions that will be used to prompt or learn from participants.
Additionally, each upcoming interview holds the possibility of unforeseen and unexpected outcomes, as well as a standard array of logistical operations and data collection procedures that will be employed repeatedly. Observers and stakeholders who do not have a clear view of the interview structure and their role expectations can also jeopardize the success of an interview.
This is the final layer of translating a research question into a tactical plan for gathering the right data before actually conducting interviews. Consider the range of constraints a protocol should cover: interview flow and timing, observer expectations, note-taking, data collection, and operational logistics. While your understanding of these constraints is complete, it is also implicit.
Therefore, create an interview protocol to guide each research session. Align with stakeholders on the protocol in advance of any interviews. Lay out the expected flow and timing of the interview, including key questions to be asked or hypotheses to explore. Set out specific instructions and targets for data capture. Build in the checklists or templates that will enable you to conduct research smoothly.
Treat the interview protocol as a skeleton for discussion and operations. Be explicit about what is [currently perceived] as essential, and allow for some flexibility to explore unexpected pathways of thought. Run a pilot study with the protocol, or expect that your first couple live interviews may capture data at “pilot test” fidelity until you’ve been able to inspect its performance and adapt.
Use your protocol to guide the whichever type of research you’ve planned for User Interview, Field Interview, Usability Test, IA Study. Build guidelines into the protocol that will prepare you and any team members for appropriate Data Capture.