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What happens to the user research data—Do you have a data lifecycle framework

Defining data ownership at different stages in the research data lifecycle is part of content governance.

The jobs market for user research professionals show that more design teams are open to invest in research and evidence based design. I participated in many such calls and surveys in the last two years, after I received invites by founders, PMs, or design leaders.

Well, what happens to the user research data that product teams capture and discuss in product meetings? Does your organization have a documented process for how they destroy it permanently after the purpose is served?

In the research projects where I contributed as a participant, not a single one of them told me either in advance or after the research for what they did to my response, my work title, diet, or any other information that I shared with them.

I spoke to a few friends in my network and this is how they handle it.

  • The research team deletes the data and then document that the data are removed.
  • They request the product team to delete it, and then they check and confirm (as part of the org process) if the research data are deleted.
  • No team communicates it to the participants that their data are deleted.
  • The participants who share personal and sensitive data such as in the human trafficking and alcohol de-addiction cells have never asked the design teams to know what happened to their data. 

Like any other type of information, all branded content is the an organization’s asset. So the subject of research data lifecycle management falls within the scope of digital governance or content governance.

Lisa Welchman, author of Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design, shares their experience of working on Intel’s digital governance, in this CMI post by Marcia Riefer Johnston.

Identify a standards steward. Policy is important, too, but you need to have someone in charge of thinking about standards across content projects. If you don’t have documented standards—a resource where people can go to find out “how it’s done here”—then every time people do a content project, at each milestone, they get into debates. Find somebody to take on the responsibility of creating whatever standards you need and then communicate them.”

In the CMI post, Lisa does not talk about the research data but their thoughts and the approach to the organization’s content applies pretty much to the research data as well.

The user research data lives in the design and product discussions as insights. This should be documented for its life cycle because the organization does not completely own this data in every sense because this is contributed by the users and the public, voluntarily.

Ada Lovelace Institute published a Participative Data Stewardship Framework that encouraged users’ participation in their own data management and ownership, and the data sharing options such as in data donation projects.

“The framework shows how participatory data stewardship can help businesses, developers and policymakers to better understand which rights to enshrine to contribute towards the increased legitimacy of, and public confidence in, the use of data and AI that works for people and society.” (See Ada Lovelace Institute’s post on this framework.)

“Stewards are responsible for involving the people who have a stake in and are impacted by data use and processing. That involvement is based on a relationship of trust and a social mandate to use data (often described in the legal context as a trust-based ‘fiduciary’ relationship – where the data steward has a responsibility to put people and society’s interests ahead of their own individual or organisational interests).”

Defining data ownership at different stages in the research data lifecycle is part of content governance model. This is another reason of how product content strategy helps an organization.

If you work in user research team in any role, it is time to propose its lifecycle for how it is deleted, and how it is communicated to the data owners that their data are deleted from the organization’s records.

Vinish Garg

Vinish Garg

I am Vinish Garg, and I work with growing product teams for their product strategy, product vision, product positioning, product onboarding and UX, and product growth. I work on products for UX and design leadership roles, product content strategy and content design, and for the brand narrative strategy. I offer training via my advanced courses for content strategists, content designers, UX Writers, content-driven UX designers, and for content and design practitioners who want to explore product and system thinking.

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Vinish Garg is an independent consultant in product content strategy, content design leadership, and product management for growing product teams.