Kenyans may tell you they’re drinking water, but in reality they’re all drinking wine

It’s a universal human truth that we often say one thing, and do something completely opposite. Many people are guarded and untrusting of research, if an authentic intent is not evident. In today’s global political environment, Brexit and the Trump Presidential victory underscore the risk of research methods revealing incomplete truths.

The risk of yielding incomplete truths is even more present when your line of enquiry falls into areas which are particularly personal, and potentially sensitive to users, such as hygiene behaviours, sexual health, employment aspirations, or political views. In these situations, when we ask participants to reveal the intimate truths behind their actions, behaviours and attitudes in a one or two hour interview (quantitative survey or focus group) why do we expect honest, insightful responses?

There are many cultural and social reasons why qualitative and quantitative research methods can significantly mislead research efforts and outcomes. For example: Could the gender of your research team effect the outcome? Could the chosen location of the interview bias the results? Are there religious customs or norms which could effect the way a participant interacts with you?

In this presentation we will talk through a tried and tested toolkit of techniques, which can help design researchers get closer to understanding the truth.  We will focus on  triangulation (mixed method research), the use of behavioural games and tools, naiveté and innocence, and immersive and live-in research. We will talk through ThinkPlace case studies from Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. 

We will demonstrate in detail how a combination of these techniques can lead to a deep, intimate understanding of research participants, which derives surprising, transformative, and priceless insight and meaning. 

Billions of dollars are spent in international development; however, we are concerned that these funds are going towards programs designed on incomplete truths, derived from well intended (but incorrect) research responses, and approaches which are not context and culture specific.

This phenomena is evident not only in international development, but in design projects across the world. 

There is a need for design researchers to reflect on their approach, and ask themselves the question: 

Are my users telling me they are drinking water, but when they go home tonight, they will actually be drinking wine?

Presentation audio