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Clarify what to learn from research

Research can be time demanding for you and your users. It’s important to focus your research goals so the evidence you gather can progress your work as far and fast as possible.

When to do it

Do this after you have identified your users and before you find existing research or conduct new research. You should continue to work with users throughout the lifetime of your policy, product or service. Your research goals will evolve over time. In early stages, your research questions are likely to be broad and they should become more specific in later development phases as you focus on particular user groups and parts of your policy, product or service. Come back to this activity as you refine the scope and direction of your work.

How to do it

You should:

  • set out the hypothesis that you want to investigate, this will provide the boundaries for your research

  • identify the questions that you need to answer

  • identify the assumptions that you need to test

  • ask the most important questions first because these may alter the direction of your research

  • don’t do the research if you don’t have time to analyse it or change your work based on the results

Try this activity

This activity will help you create your research questions. It will give you a prioritised list of research questions.

Time, space and materials

  • 30 minutes

  • any space with a wall, sticky notes, paper, and pens for a face-to-face event

  • or for a remote event use a video conference and online whiteboard that will take the place of the wall and enable participants to add and move online ‘sticky notes’

People to include

  • your team

  • any number of people

  • a facilitator to provide the instructions


The purpose of this activity is to think about what research questions you’ll need to ask.

  1. Write your hypothesis on a big sheet of paper and stick it to the wall.

  2. What do you want to learn from the next round of research? What questions will help you prove or disprove the hypothesis? Write down your questions, 1 per sticky note. Make them broad, open questions like who, what, when, where or why, not narrow or specific ones like do, have, will or can. Remember, these are things you want to learn, not questions for users. You have 10 minutes.

  3. Stick the notes to the wall and group together similar ones. You have 3 minutes.

  4. Assign each group of questions to different people.

  5. Everyone should read all of the questions in their group and give it a name. Write this name down on a sticky note and label the group. You have 5 minutes.

  6. Each person gives a summary of their group of questions - 1 minute per person.

  7. Everyone now votes for the groups of questions that you think are most important. You have 5 votes. You can distribute your votes however you want and vote for 1 group more than once if you want. Make your vote by drawing a big dot on the sticky note. You have 1 minute.

  8. Everyone now vote for the individual questions that you think are most important. Vote in the same way. You have another 5 votes. You have 1 minute.

  9. Count the votes and write the score on the sticky notes.

  10. Order the groups of questions from most popular down to not popular.

  11. For the single most popular group of questions, are there any additional questions you should ask here? Write your questions down and stick them to the wall. You have 1 minute.

  12. Vote again for the questions that you think are most important in this particular group. You have 5 votes. Distribute your votes as you wish. You can vote for the same question again or you can vote for a new question. Share your votes out or put them in one place. You have 1 minute.

  13. In turn, repeat the previous 2 steps for any other popular groups of questions.

  14. You now have a prioritised list of research goals.


  • take a photo of the wall when you have finished

  • write up the goals

  • keep a record of the unpopular questions too – they may be useful when planning  a later stage of research

  • keep people to time – this type of activity benefits from pace and quantity of ideas

Next steps

  • find out if there is any existing evidence and identify where the gaps in your knowledge are (see chapter: build on existing evidence)

  • plan how you will gather new evidence (see chapter: find out more about users)

  • a researcher, analyst or subject matter expert may be able to help you

Further reading

Find out more about this topic by searching the internet for:

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