In Human-Centred Design, we learn about problems and solutions by engaging stakeholders with empathy and curiosity. What that means is asking good questions, and then listening to what people have to say. The best engagement, however, comes from well-prepared questions. Planning isn’t cheating!

Here are three questions to consider as you prepare to engage stakeholders:

1. Why am I doing engagement?

Make sure you’re clear on what it is you need to learn from engagement. Sometimes this is called a research question or hypothesis. This is the big “why” that all of your engagement questions will support or find answers for, however, it’s not necessarily a direct question you will ask participants. Don’t waste people’s time and effort with questions that don’t get you closer to answering your big “why”.

This research question could be broad (e.g. What is the experience of a shopper in the grocery store?) or narrow (e.g. How well does this grocery cart prototype meet a shopper’s needs?)

2. Will I use a framework?

Engagement can be structured, unstructured, or fall somewhere in the middle. You might have a set of questions to ask in a specific order or more general questions that can flow with the conversation. A framework can do both. It’s really just a mental or physical outline to prepare and order your questions—and then improvise as needed. You can create your own framework or use something tried-and-tested. At Overlap, we often like to use these classics:

3. What questions don’t I need to ask?

Once you have a rough idea of your engagement questions, go over your list to think about the responses you expect to hear. If you won’t be directly using the responses to any questions, consider removing them. This is especially true with demographic questions. The more anonymous someone feels answering questions, the better. However, sometimes there are good reasons for asking these things (screening for certain characteristics, making sure you’ve engaged a representative group, etc). If you decide the question is important, keep these tips in mind:

  • Ask demographic questions last. Research shows people’s answers to questions are affected by the common stereotypes of their demographics when asked about age, race, or gender upfront—one of the consequences of Stereotype Threat
  • Ask about demographics in open-ended questions. For questions with many possible options (e.g. ethnicity, gender) allowing the option to enter an open response is more inclusive than deciding on a list of categories for participants to choose from.

Now that you have your questions, it’s time to gather responses. Whether you’re running a focus group conversation, creating an online survey, or preparing to talk to passersby outside (check out this method: Street Team surveys), these tips can help you get the most from your stakeholder’s time and attention and achieve your engagement goals.

Get in touch sometime and let us know how these tips work out for you!