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Conduct Secondary Research

How can we learn from expert sources to focus user research and build off the work of others?


Secondary research is the act of collecting information from existing and reputable sources. Many groups and organizations have been creating social impact for years and good designers build on the work of others. To make a real impact in the world, your team needs to know what is out there. Build a holistic understanding of your problem context from the facts, stories, themes, and existing solutions from your secondary research. 

Be on the lookout for the major components on the graphic above during your secondary research! You will use them to help form questions in user interviews and observations.

Always remember to document and share your research with the team. Your team will revisit the secondary research often as you progress throughout the project, so keep your findings organized!

Effective ways to do this include:

  1. Download the Problem Context one-pager to remember major things to look out for in your secondary research!
    • Locating reputable sources is one of the difficult parts of secondary research. Always be cognizant that your sources may come with an agenda and biases.
  2. Find 5+ slap stats to share with your team
    • Read academic articles, find a relevant book, or look for newspaper articles
    • Look for interesting facts, stories, themes, and slap stats - statistics that are so shocking and persuasive they seem to slap you in the face when you encounter them!
  3. Identify stakeholders, organizations, and places within your problem space
    • Map out which stakeholders are affected by the problem, which organizations involves them, and where you can find them.
    • Analyze 1-2 existing solutions to understand what is out in the field
      • Look for what has been done in the field, if it worked or not, and what could be improved to identify opportunity gaps - gaps of the problem neglected or poorly addressed by the current solutions.
  4. Identify 4-5 themes that will inform further research
    • A lot of your research will be related. For a food access project themes might be where people access food, types of food people eat, food cost and quality, other health factors, time. 
    • Look for different themes, don't just go for the obvious clusters. Split up each fact or story into a different post it and mix them up before clustering so you don't default to the way your different sources cluster information.
  5. Set up interview sessions with users and experts
    • Identify who you can reach out for further interviews that focus on your themes.
    • Reach out to stakeholders, either potential users or experts, to learn more about your problem space. Check out Recruit Users for sample email drafts! Ask stakeholders to point you in the direction of further reading material and possible partners. 

Network Best Practices

Identify 5+ important themes like DFA Duke

DFA Duke recorded their online research topics in a report to Newell Rubbermaid for their Worker Safety project. These include slips and falls, repetitive motion injury, and chemical exposure. 

Find meaningful and touching slap stats like DFA U of I

DFA U of I recorded their slap stats about epilepsy in the U.S. as part of a presentation to Chrysler in Fall 2014. For example, 1 in 3 people with epilepsy lives with uncontrollable seizures because no available treatment works for them. Patrick is shocked!

Identify stakeholders and organizations like the DFA Leadership Studio teams

The topic of DFA Leadership Studio 2015 was enhancing the lives of those touched by Down Syndrome. Intrigued by the topic, DFA students continued finding and posting articles on the facebook group even after leadership studio had ended.