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Using Ethnographic User Research to Drive Knowledge Management and Intranet Strategy

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Is your organization leveraging its intranet for the bottom line? ...

Is your organization leveraging its intranet for the bottom line?

Nearly 97% of all pharmacological research experiments fail to make it to human trials. If lessons learned from these failed experiments are not shared effectively, researchers continually recreate failed experiments resulting in great costs to organizations and their customers.

Topics covered:

* Types of user research
* Persona development
* Intranet adoption strategies
* Knowledge management strategies
* Best practices

Bruns and his team shadowed research scientists to learn how and why they shared - and didn't share - their knowledge with their peers. He will discuss findings of how researchers used (and did not use) their existing knowledge management systems, personas of the different types of pharmaceutical researchers (The Conductor, The Expert, The Advice Seeker, The Hermit, The Human Robot, and The Collaborator), strategies for enlisting the participation of the various personas within the organization, recommendations for how to create the next generation of the client's knowledge management intranet, lessons learned from this study, and best practices on conducting ethnographic user research to guide the success of your organization's intranet.

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  • A Lab Head searches through emails, different databases (one on the KMIntranet, which doesn’t work), works with her Unit Head on the phone andin person. In the end, she does not find what she’s looking for.
  • Scientists weren’t averse to using technologyIT just wasn’t giving them what they wanted
  • Provide greater context around the data in the moment and over time.
  • Make it easier to discover relationships through others and other work (both current and past).


  • 1. Using Ethnographic User Research to Drive KM and Intranet StrategyDon Bruns – Senior Consultant
  • 2. Profile
    NavigationArts is a full-service digital consultancy that helps organizations achieve results via the online channel
  • 3. Why User Research?
    Speed user adoption
    Uncover points of resistance
    Identify true user needs
    Bolsters change management
    Serves as the foundation for User Centered Design efforts
  • 4. Definition
    Ethnography: Branch of anthropology that describes human societies by conducting field research
    Ancient Greek: εθνος + γραφειν
    • ethnos = people
    • 5. graphein = writing
  • 6. Case Study
  • 7. About the Client
    International pharmaceutical firm
    SharePoint-based KM portal for scientists
    Decades worth of siloed data
    Struggling to achieve user adoption
  • 8. The Problem
    97% of all pharmaceutical experiments fail
    Great at recording success stories
    Bad at capturing failures
    Repeating failed experiments year after year
    Molecule A + Assay B + Target C
    = ?
    Molecule A + Assay B + Target C
    = X
    Fritz, Zurich
    Beth, San Francisco
  • 9. The Question
    How can we encourage scientists to share their failures?
    How do we make data from failed experiments available?
    How can we help ensure user adoption?
    “Success is also understanding why something didn’t work.”
  • 10. Stakeholders believed…
    Scientists don’t trust management
    Scientists are anti-social
    Scientists don’t want to use information technology
    Scientists compete with each another
    Scientists feared that other scientists would steal their work
    Client brought us in to find out how to overcome this…
  • 11. User Research Plan
  • 12. Findings
  • 13. Scientists operate in several modes
  • 14. Most tools were geared toward “Hermit Mode”
    Dozens of siloed databases
    Decades of data on paper
    Current information systems foster isolation
    One person: one bench
    One person: one computer
    Intranet did little to connect scientists and data sources
  • 15. Lack of connections frustrated “Advice Seeker Mode”
    • Searching for data takes away from "real science“
    Inconsistent metadata
    Formula: C22H23FN2O5
    Corp ID: 5128196-01
    ATC code: N06AB10
    PubChem: 146570
    • Knowing who to ask > Knowing where to look
  • 16. Right tools in wrong place frustrated “Collaborator Mode”
    Management provides tools that scientists ignored
    Whiteboards in the hallways and cafeterias are pristine
    Glassware in the lab is covered with magic marker
    Computers far away from workbenches and equipment
    Tools were not integrated into the normal workflow
  • 17. Distrust of intranet and search hurt every Mode
    Takes one bad experience with portal to disillusion scientists
    Scientists created their own information systems:
    Isolated wikis
    Private discussion forums
    Local spreadsheets
    Massive bookmark lists
    “I should add this to the database, but my Excel file is more reliable.”
  • 18. Lack of context prevented “Expert Mode” online
    Fear of being judged by incomplete work
    Concern that information will be used out of context
    No way to indicate how “finished” a piece of research is
    Scientists need to feel safe about sharing
  • 19. Recommendations
  • 20. Add context to content for “Experts”
    Let “Experts” tag content according to readiness
    Prevent “Experts” from being judged unfairly based on incomplete work
  • 21. Create connections for “Advice Seekers”
    Tag all scientific content according to a core set of metadata
    Develop a synonym ring for Compounds
    Adopt automated tagging solution
    Implement a faster, more robust search tool
  • 22. Create connections online to promote “Collaborator Mode”
    Let users share professional interests, experiences, and expertise
    Show current research efforts and past projects
    Show document uploads and personal contacts
    Apply metadata strategy to all intranet content
  • 23. Recommend content and people to “Advice Seekers”
    Similar to Facebook or LinkedIn recommendations
    Recommend connections based on metadata strategy:
    Search patterns
    Personal profiles
    Document uploads
    Current and past activities
  • 24. Visualize the entire body of knowledge
    Create mind map to show relationships between:
    Allow users to browse and search visually
    Can be incorporated with faceted search
  • 25. Conclusion
  • 26. Best Practices
    Any user research is better than none
    Plan and budget for success
    Achieve and maintain buy-in from senior leadership
    Stakeholders are not users
    Choose the right methods for your needs
    Capture as much as you can
    Bring in a neutral observer
    Avoid analysis paralysis
  • 27. Questions?
    Don Bruns