Activating insights: how to get more out of research

This is the second of three themes we cover in ‘Permission to pursue my passion: driving innovation through student voices’. We were scheduled to deliver this as a workshop at the Asia-Pacific Association for International Education (APAIE) conference in Vancouver. Understandably, the conference has been postponed due to a number of factors relating to the coronavirus/ Covid-19 outbreak.

Understanding our students’ experience in international education is crucial right now. Whilst many students anxiously anticipate the start of a long-awaited education journey, others just want to return to a campus where they may only just have settled in and found their first friend. Some are tackling mid-term exams with families in quarantine thousands of miles away, whilst racism rears its ugly head on and off campus.  

With this in mind, we continue to share core themes from our planned session, looking at what we can learn together from our diverse perspectives across the Pacific. Our second theme is about keeping that focus on activating insights for the long-term. Basically, if you’ve done the work, make sure you use it! 

Theme 2: Make your insights work harder

If the last time you look at research findings is during the debrief presentation, you’re not getting enough value. There are so many ways you can squeeze more juice out of insights, recycling them again and again for different activities, audiences and applications. 

Each time you do something with research learnings, you also add new layers of insight to keep it fresh. As one of our group said, you’re ‘growing with’ the research, which is quite different to ticking a box and moving on to the next project.

Here are some of the ways you can make your student experience insights work harder:

  1. Capture the moment: As you’re interviewing, undertaking observational work and doing your analysis, try and capture as much as you can during the process. Take photos of that orientation event and things you noticed about student interactions; keep that picture the student drew for you or take a screenshot of the webpage they say isn’t working well. With students’ (written) permission, you could even grab a short video summary from them at the end of your interview. These are invaluable ways to help others (virtually) immerse themselves in the student experience too.
  2. Adapt findings for different needs: If your research findings are rich and deep enough, you can find ways to communicate different aspects as needs arise. The breadth and depth of the data and methodology may hit the mark with some, whilst others are waiting to hear the narrative and student voices to connect the dots. Once you’ve distilled the key messages, get out there and share it with whoever will listen!
  3. Let people interact with the research: This is where we take our cue from the active classroom and get down from the lecturer’s podium. Try to send pre-workshop tasks with pictures, quotes, video or curiosity-raising questions before you meet; if you’ve created a new framework, cut it up and let people piece it back together; facilitate sessions which link the research to daily work and broader strategy, then follow up to find out what’s happening next.
  4. Show the research and work ‘out loud’: Stick that compelling graph, framework or student quote up on the wall, behind your desk or on the noticeboard. If you’re lucky enough to work in the same space as other teams, use this visual stimulus to start conversations, even if it’s just a chat on the way to the kitchen. 

Why does it matter?

Making insights work harder matters for our organisational strategies, efficiency (why put the effort in if you don’t use it?) and plans for growth and innovation. Continually re-visiting, poking and questioning what we think we know is a crucial counter-balance to making decisions informed by anecdote or worse still, whoever shouted loudest in the last meeting.

Most of all, don’t get bored of your hard-won insights too soon. Students may have given up their lunchbreak or battled into college on a rainy day to help us out. Maybe it took all the courage they had that day just to turn up and hold a conversation with a stranger for an hour in their second (or third!) language. Now it’s up to us to put those insights to work and do something that makes a difference.

Hungry for more insights? Read about Theme 1 from the workshop, ‘We are more alike, my friends…‘ and see what Maya Angelou has to say about being human. We’ll be back with Theme 3 very soon!