Diversity is at the heart of human civilization, and has shaped the world that we live in today. But, for the longest time mainstream culture and majoritarian narratives have led to a very homogenous worldview. This has led to the crystallization of a society which is foundationally not inclusive and appreciative of diversity.
Currently, we are seeing the awareness around this grow because of which there is a lot of focus and effort globally to build more inclusive and equitable societies. In today’s interconnected world, diversity is more than just a buzzword; it is a reflection of the rich tapestry of human experiences and perspectives. As creators, researchers, strategists and innovators, it is our responsibility to ensure that our studies and findings accurately represent the diverse range of individuals who make up our user base. Specifically when planning a research study, putting together a sample that captures this diversity is essential for producing meaningful and inclusive results. In this article, we have put together practical strategies for planning your research sample within the context of diverse users.
1. Looking beyond diversity as just a checklist
First off, it is important to recognize that diversity is not just about ticking boxes or meeting quotas; it is about acknowledging and valuing the unique contributions & perspectives that people from different backgrounds bring to the table. A diverse research sample allows for more comprehensive insights and ensures that no particular group is overlooked, marginalized or excluded. This is possible when you are able to zoom-in and look closely at the specific target segment and identify the nuances that define the diversities at play.
2. Contextual understanding of diversity
It is important to have a contextual understanding of the market and audience when working with diversity as it can help identify the key dimensions of user diversity that are relevant to your research. These may include but are not limited to race, ethnicity, gender identity, age, socioeconomic status, educational background, geographic location, and language proficiency. Once the contextual aspects are identified, it is important to consider the relevant diversity factors that may influence your research topic and the user experiences you want to explore.
3. Conducting a diversity audit based on the research goals
Before planning your research sample, clearly define your research objectives. Ask yourself- what are you trying to achieve with your study? What specific insights or data are you seeking? Understanding your goals will help you identify the relevant dimensions of diversity to consider in your sample in that particular research study. To identify the relevant diversity aspects that you should consider, you can also conduct a diversity audit to assess the current representation within your user base. Analyze your existing data, user personas, and any available demographic information to understand the composition of your audience. This audit will help identify any gaps or underrepresented groups that need to be addressed in your research sample.
4. Broadening the recruitment process to include diverse users
When recruiting participants for your research, it can be beneficial to intentionally design the recruitment process such that you are able to reach individuals from diverse backgrounds. This can be done by using multiple channels to spread the word about your study, leveraging community organizations, social media platforms, forums, and professional networks that cater to various demographics. Leaning on your local partners or recruitment agencies for their suggestions on how to make the recruitment material and language inclusive, welcoming and accessible will also help you reach your audiences in a seamless way.
5. Be mindful of cultural sensitivities
When conducting research within diverse communities, it is crucial to be sensitive to cultural norms, practices, and customs. Being respectful of participants’ preferences and comfort levels, and adapting your research methods and materials accordingly is essential when conducting fieldwork. Consider language barriers, accessibility needs, and potential bias in your data collection instruments to create a safe and inclusive environment for all participants.
6. Encourage open and inclusive interactions
During research sessions or interviews, create an environment that encourages open and inclusive discussions. Be mindful of power dynamics and strive to create a safe space where participants feel comfortable sharing their experiences and perspectives. Foster an atmosphere of respect and active listening, and be open to learning from the diverse insights and narratives that emerge. This will help bring out real experiences and reveal deeper behavioral nuances which can help shape your solution better.
7. Thinking and interpreting from an intersectional lens
When analyzing and interpreting your research data, take an intersectional approach that will help you broaden your view of the user’s context. It is necessary to recognize that an individuals’ experiences are shaped by the overlapping influences of various identities and social factors. Especially when researching in a context that you are not familiar with, it can become very easy to fall back on biases or oversimplify narratives. In reality, the more diverse your audience, the more varied are their influences, behaviors, challenges and perspectives. Thus analyzing data through an intersectional lens helps uncover nuanced insights and avoids oversimplifying the experiences of diverse participants. This can also be done by engaging with your local partners who can provide a better insight into the socio-cultural context of the users which helps build a holistic understanding of the users universe.
8. Utilizing stratified sampling approach to create efficient research sample
When putting together your diverse user sample size for the study, stratified sampling becomes an effective technique that helps ensure representation across different demographic groups. This can be done by dividing your target audience into relevant subgroups based on key dimensions of diversity, and then selecting participants from each subgroup in proportion to their representation in the larger group. This approach ensures that each subgroup is adequately represented in your research sample and you do not end up compromising, over-indexing or excluding voices unintentionally. For example, if you are building a digital product for rural India, you can identify the subgroups based on digital awareness, literacy, access to a smartphone & internet etc. Based on the distribution of your users in each of these sub groups, you can form a smaller sample size that is representative of this demographic group.
Utilizing these inclusive research practices ensures that the voices and experiences of diverse users are heard and accounted for. By deliberately planning your research sample within a context of diversity, you can generate more comprehensive insights, make informed decisions, and design solutions that cater to the needs of all users. Embracing diversity in research is not just a moral imperative but also a pathway to innovation and success in our increasingly interconnected world.
And together as a research community, embracing this responsibility of bringing out the voices and experiences of diverse users in a way that is relevant for the product or the service can help foster true inclusion for all!
— Avani Tavargeri (Research Consultant, Xeno Co-lab)