We’re understanding more and more that including end-users, stakeholders, or customers of a product or service in the design process improves outcomes. So the next question is, how do you engage with them?

Street teams are one of the core engagement methods that we regularly use at Overlap to learn about people’s needs. We use street teams in our human-centred design work when we need to gather insights from people in their communities.

Continue reading to learn more about running street teams, when this method works best, and what type of research street teams are suited for.

Origionally published August 31, 2016

What are Street Teams?

Street Teams are short-burst, face-to-face interviews with either a target group or the general public, which often take place outside on the street.

It’s a highly engaging approach that helps us gain a broad perspective of people’s needs. At Overlap, we’ve used street teams most often in our work with libraries, but we’ve also used this process in our work with healthcare providers, education institutions, and other social service industries.

We begin by developing 4-7 questions that get at what that individual’s needs are in their community. We go into the community ourselves to test out the questions first. Then we’ll make any adjustments and either run the street teams or train the library staff (or whichever organization we’re working with) to deliver the street teams themselves.

Even though it can be intimidating to the start, our client street teams tell us the experience is incredibly rewarding overall. There’s something special about getting into the community and having new conversations with people in order to understand opportunities from their perspectives.

Some clients have had great success harnessing their social media and marketing networks to generate wide-spread awareness about street teams. We’ve even seen front-page news coverage from one large community.

Street teams work best when you’re looking for:

  • Input from a larger number of participants (100 – 500 people)
  • A certain geographic area
  • A small number of fairly shallow research questions.

Running street teams has become a staple in much of our public sector work because we often want to talk to a range of community members in a certain geographic area, and we tend to ask focused questions that leave room for deeper exploration.

Street teams are a great complement to other forms of design research or community engagement, but it’s important to use them for the appropriate research aims.

Generally, Street Teams are well suited for:

  1. Mid-scale community engagement with the general public (not with very specific user groups)
  2. Getting feedback
    • What we think is or isn’t working well in a specific context
    • Whether someone feels they are or aren’t affected by a problem
    • New ideas that have already been generated, targeted toward specific user groups
  3. Generating ideas based on specific questions/constraints
  4. Understanding user needs in a current, top-of-mind situation (this works best when the person is currently in the situation we’re trying to understand, such as trying to improve an ER experience by talking to people in an ER)
  5. Establishing starting points for further deep-dive or focus group-based research

Generally, Street Teams Are Not well suited for:

  • Understanding the context around deep-rooted user needs, constraints, and preferences
  • Discussing highly personal or possibly traumatic topics
  • Complex research questions
  • Research with vulnerable populations

Take Your Research to The Streets 

💡 Excited to hit the streets? Going out and asking strangers questions can be intimidating. Read our 6 Street Team Tips For Impactful Public Research including lessons our teams have learned over years of conducting research.

📚 Inc.com shared How To Get Customer Feedback In 1 Hour Or Less,  which is a great place to start if you’re looking for other engagement ideas. 

🛠 75 Design Thinking Tools and Resources Explained