Learn More: Synthesis is the New Analysis

(Day 3 of 5 Days, 5 Themes)

People in 128 countries collaborate on some of the world’s toughest design challenges through OpenIDEO, IDEO’s open innovation platform. The platform is thriving, with new challenges, new sponsors, and a growing focus on in-person collaboration groups.

Step back a year, and the OpenIDEO organization was at an inflection point. They needed to know what their community really needed, in order to make some key strategic decisions. I jumped in to help out, using the Hybrid Insights research approach.

We started by talking to users. Every day we had a Skype call with a different community member, selecting people who ranged from the super engaged power user, to the person who started one “challenge” (the OpenIDEO name for a collaborative project) and then left. In these conversations we learned about what people wanted from OpenIDEO, and what purpose it served in their life. We heard about how it provided an outlet for creativity in an otherwise rigid career; how it served as a career stop-gap between times of employment; how it helped people feel involved in their communities, or connected to others far away.

The richness and nuance of these conversations was impressive, and we could have stopped there. But we wanted to learn the story of everyone’s experience, and not just the people we were able to chat with.

We turned to the data that we had available, which were the recorded actions that registered users could take on the site. So we could know, for example, how many people submitted ideas, “applauded” other users, or evaluated concepts. That told part of the story; we had a nice overall picture of the engagement trends, but that didn’t help us move forward with knowing what to do from a strategy or design perspective.

But knowing what we now did about the kinds of things all of the registered users were doing, and what the interviewed people were experiencing, we could design a really thoughtful and targeted survey to have a conversation with a much broader swath of users.

With survey results, action data, and conversations, we essentially had three data sets that we were able to knit together to unpack the bigger story of what the community was doing, needing, and expecting. Because we had this broader view, for example, we knew that the in-person collaborations that a couple of our interview subjects were experimenting with actually represented a much broader phenomenon, as a surprising 80% of the survey respondents reported doing this.

Because of this research, OpenIDEO started launching and supporting many more in-person events, and the response has been resounding.

We wouldn’t have known to ask a survey question about people meeting in-person to work on an OpenIDEO challenge unless we’d had those conversations with actual users at the very beginning. Without the survey, we wouldn’t have had the data it gave us, since that information wouldn’t have been collected in any other way.

This one aspect of this one study illustrates why we believe in the notion that “synthesis is the new analysis.” Rather than relying strictly on existing data, analyzed in a vacuum, stronger and more useful insights arise when you synthesize, pulling together different qualitative and quantitative input streams.

For OpenIDEO, this meant a more engaged community. For other projects and clients, it’s meant everything from uncovering new uses for iPads to unexpected emotions about dessert. It’s a place where the current world meets the future, and where emergent behaviors can become new offerings.

Read more about our project: Stories and Numbers: How we’re understanding what really matters to you, OpenIDEO Blog

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