Every study you design will be different. However, there are some common elements that’ll you need to include in every study design.
While the elements might stay fairly consistent, the odds that every element works as designed won’t. As you conduct more research, you’ll quickly discover an unfortunate but important fact: you have far less control than you think.
No matter where you conduct research, designing a study will always have some unremovable amount of risk. In this context, risk means not having a lot control over the execution and progression of your study. Even in mature research cultures, you can’t make guarantees for what’ll happen after you design and start your study.
You never have as much control in a research study as you might prefer or need.
For example, you can’t guarantee that enough informative people will respond to your survey by the end of the week. You can’t guarantee that you’ll see a specific behavior or interaction during a contextual inquiry. In some situations, you can’t even guarantee your stakeholders will care about your findings even though they were the same people who asked for the research.
Sadly, the less control you have over how specific phases of your study pan out, the more likely you’ll have to pivot or make immediate changes after starting a study. That’s not a good situation because your prep work, planned analysis, and reporting commitments have to be reworked in real-time. Risks make it even harder for you to quickly deliver findings and insights back to your stakeholders.
Every time you design a study, you accept some level of risk. But what exactly could go wrong when designing a study? What are the risks you’ll encounter? Let’s revisit the study design elements from above, but this time, let’s look at the possible ways each element can be risky, unpredictable, or uncontrollable.
The size of the table above might send you into a panic. It seems like you have zero control over how your study will work. But remember that not all of the risks will apply in every study you design. To overcome these potential risks, you have to first predict what’ll go wrong in your study and then make decisions to lower or manage those risks.