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Make sense of evidence about users

Talking to users can generate a huge amount of evidence. Organise the evidence you’ve gathered to make sense of what you are hearing so you can clearly articulate what they need.

When to do it

Do this this after you have gathered evidence about users. This might be after you have collected all of the evidence that you need or you might do this several times, such as after a session with users, to help refine your research questions or method.

How to do it

You should:

  • get all your evidence into the same format, so that it can be presented together and easily understood

  • group the evidence by theme

  • use the themes to write 1 or more summary statements for each type of user - write each of the statements using this format:

    • As a… [user type]

    • I need… [what does the user need to do?]

    • So that… [why does the user need to do this?]

Try this activity

This activity will help you analyse your evidence. It will give you themes from the evidence and simple statements about what users need.

Time, space and materials

  • 90 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’


  • Write all of your observations on sticky notes. One observation, per user, per sticky note

  • Keep the observation in the voice of the user e.g. ‘I do my lesson planning on a Sunday’

  • Write the name (or an initial or code) of the user that said the thing or the source of insight on every sticky note

  • If you have structured evidence, like results from an online survey, then write the observation on a sticky note and bracket the number of people that have made that observation e.g. ‘I do my lesson planning on a Sunday (x30 people)

  • Colour coding of sticky notes: if you are analysing just one type of user then use just one colour of sticky note. If you are analysing more than one type of user, like teachers and administrators, then give each type of user their own colour

  • Stick all your observations to the wall

People to include

  • people who have gathered the evidence

  • a researcher or analyst if you have one

  • facilitator to provide the instructions


The purpose of this activity is to find themes in the evidence that you have gathered.

  1. Read all of the observations. Move and group the observations into high-level themes as you go. Everybody start at different parts of the wall. You have 15 minutes.

  2. Everyone should now choose one high-level theme. You should sort the evidence for that theme. First, name your high-level theme and clearly label it with a sticky note. Second, if any observations are the same, then stack the notes on top of each other, so only the most descriptive note is visible. Third, divide your high-level theme into sub-categories and label those too. You have 15 minutes.

  3. On each sub-category write the number people that have made that observation. You have 1 minute.

  4. In turn, tell everyone what you have found out about your high-level theme. Start with the most frequently made observations first. You have 2 minutes each.

  5. We are now going to agree which are the most important observations. Everyone gets 5 votes. Vote by making a big dot on a sticky note. Distribute your votes as you wish. You can share your votes around or use them all in one place. You have 1 minute.

The purpose of this next activity is to produce simple statements about what users need.

  1. Everyone should now choose one of the important observations and summarise it in the form of a user need. Write it using the structure:

    • As a… [user type]

    • I need… [what does the user need to do?]

    • So that… [why does the user need to do this?]

  2. For example: as a teacher, I need to do my lesson planning during the school day, so that I have time to rest out of school hours. Write each part of the statement on a separate sticky note, so the statement should be written across 3 sticky notes. You have 10 minutes.

  3. In turn, each person should tell everyone else about the user need they have written. After each person has spoken, the group should give feedback so the statement can be refined immediately.

  4. You now have evidence that is organised by theme with  simple, consistent statements explaining what users need.


  • You can add a 2nd or 3rd round of voting if needed to get a clearer prioritisation

  • Take photos as you go, so that you have a record of your process

Next steps

  • User need statements are useful for refining the scope of your work, generating ideas about what your solutions might be, and explaining your work to other people

  • Use the statements as a tool to refine the intended impact of your work (see chapter: convert user need into impact)

Further reading

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

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