Democratizing Research: What Is It and How to Implement It?

Democratizing Research: What Is It and How to Implement It? cover

Who is responsible for user research at your SaaS? Are all teams involved or is it just a select few with specialist expertise?

If it’s the latter, your organization may benefit from democratizing research.

In this article, we explore:

  • What is research democratization
  • Its benefits and downsides
  • Different levels of UX research democratization
  • How to implement democratization initiatives, and
  • Best practices.

Let’s get right to it.


  • By democratizing research, you make it more accessible and inclusive across your organization.
  • Research democratization empowers staff at every level to make data-driven decisions. It also helps them better understand user needs and preferences and fosters a customer-centric culture.
  • Organizations with successful research democratization initiatives also benefit from improved collaboration between teams.
  • Finally, it spreads the research workload between different teams, which enables the research team to focus on strategic research initiatives.
  • One of the concerns about research democratization is that it may result in lowering research quality. For example, untrained staff members may not be able to spot biases that sneak into research questions or how they interpret the responses.
  • Research teams may also be reluctant to train others not to compromise research results or out of fear of losing their positions.
  • There are 4 levels of research democratization: Access, Participation, Facilitation, and Ownership.
  • Access is about sharing research insights with other teams and training them on how to interpret the results.
  • At the Participation level, colleagues take an active part in the research, for example, by recording data, but don’t make independent decisions.
  • Facilitation gives participants more independence. They lead their research initiatives and analyze the results but still under the guidance of researchers.
  • To own research means to have complete control over its objectives, methodology, and data analysis.
  • Start data democratization by defining research needs and goals in your SaaS.
  • Next, select participants with the right skills and disposition. You want curious problem-solvers with good analytical mindsets.
  • The training you provide should cover research principles, data collection methods, data analysis, reporting as well as ethics and data privacy.
  • Documentation helps ensure consistency across teams, facilitates staff onboarding, and helps you improve research processes.
  • Regularly review your processes and share best practices across the organization to improve research quality and integrity.
  • To see how Userpilot can help you democratize user research in your company, book the demo!

What is user research democratization?

Research democratization is the process of making user research more accessible and inclusive across organizations.

In short, it involves breaking down the barriers that restrict user research activities to specialized teams or individuals.

This can be done by providing training, using user-friendly tools that non-specialist teams can use, and promoting a culture of collaboration and sharing.

Benefits of democratizing research

There are several reasons why you should invest in research democratization.

Here’s an overview of the key ones.

Fosters a customer-centric culture

Democratizing research cultivates a customer-centric culture within an organization by empowering staff with user insights at every level of decision-making.

When you involve employees from various teams in UX research, they develop a deeper understanding and empathy for the customer’s needs and wants.

Such widespread customer focus can drive innovation and improve product design, ensuring that it better addresses the needs and pain points of the target audience.

Lightens the work burden of research teams

By distributing user research responsibilities across the organization, you can significantly reduce the strain on specialized research teams and increase their research capabilities.

This allows these teams to focus on more strategic research initiatives while other staff handle routine research tasks. As a result, they can dive deeper into complex user studies leading to more thorough insights and innovations.

Encourages data-driven decision-making

Democratization of research reinforces a data-driven culture where decisions are based on actual user data rather than assumptions, high-level market trends, or hunches.

How so?

In short, this approach ensures that every team, from product to marketing, has direct access to user insights. Consequently, decisions are better informed, objective, and aligned with real user needs, leading to better outcomes and customer satisfaction.

Increases collaboration between different teams

When different teams share the responsibility for conducting research, it naturally fosters collaboration between them.

For example, designers, developers, and marketers can work together and use shared insights to create more cohesive and user-friendly products.

Such cross-functional collaboration not only leads to a more unified approach to product development but also encourages a free exchange of ideas and knowledge across the organization.

Drawbacks of democratizing user research

Despite the clear benefits of democratizing research, it comes with a few challenges to be aware of.

Non-researchers may conduct research poorly

Involving non-researchers in the research process poses a risk of poor execution.

Think about it:

Without the necessary research skills and experience, the research findings might be flawed, resulting in incorrect conclusions. This can significantly impair decision-making and, consequently, harm customer experience.

So, the challenge is ensuring that all participants in the research process are competent enough to maintain high standards of quality and accuracy.

Higher chances of bias in the UX research process

Democratizing user research increases the likelihood of introducing biases into the process.

Each team member brings their own perspectives and preconceptions to the table, and this can inadvertently skew research results.

What’s the result?

Misrepresented user needs and preferences, resulting in products that perhaps align with the expectations or requirements of the product team but not necessarily of the target audience.

Research team may be hesitant to democratize research

Reluctance within the research department could be a serious blocker to your research democratization efforts.

Where does it come from?

Concerns about maintaining the quality and integrity of the research process or fear of invalid research outcomes are common causes.

This can hinder the wider adoption of a democratic approach to research and limit its potential benefits.

That’s why effective democratization requires not only skill-building among non-researchers but also a cultural shift within research teams to embrace and support this broader involvement.

What are the different levels of research democratization?

User research democratization can mean different things in different organizations. That’s because they manage to democratize their research processes to a different extent.

We distinguish 4 main levels:

  • Access
  • Participation
  • Facilitation
  • Ownership
Research democratization levels
Research democratization levels.

Level 1: Access

The ‘Access’ level of user data democratization is about the effective sharing of knowledge across the organization.

For example, you may provide different teams with usability test recordings, in-app survey results, or product analytics dashboards.

By gaining access to user insights, staff from other departments can better understand customer needs and perspectives, which can inform their daily work and decision-making processes.

However, Access isn’t only about making existing research findings and data available to non-research teams. You also need to train them on how to handle data safely and interpret user research insights to make data-driven decisions.

Level 2: Participation

Participation takes democratization one step further.

At this level, colleagues from different departments get actively involved in the research process.

Mind you, this doesn’t mean leading research projects, but merely participating in them. For example, they could help design research questions, observe usability testing, or take interview notes. You may also engage them in basic data analysis.

This active involvement helps to deepen their understanding of users and fosters a more empathetic approach to product development. It also shifts some of the workload from researchers.

Level 3: Facilitation

At the Facilitation level, things get even more serious.

That’s when non-researchers take on a more significant role in user research. They’re not assistants anymore but lead certain research initiatives under the guidance and support of professional researchers.

For example, they can conduct interviews, lead user testing sessions, or analyze data.

This level of democratization enables faster and more diverse data collection. However, it also involves more significant risks. That’s why it requires thorough preparation and know-how sharing across the organization.

Level 4: Ownership

Ownership is the ultimate level of research democratization because this is when non-researchers take full responsibility for certain research projects.

What does it mean in practice?

They don’t just conduct research. They have complete autonomy to define the objectives, select the research methodology, and analyze the data. User research becomes an integral part of their responsibilities, and they’re fully accountable for the outcomes.

This level of democratization requires a high degree of trust in non-researchers abilities and a strong culture of user research within the organization. Most organizations will struggle to get to this level.

How to implement the democratization of user research in your company?

Considering its advantages, the fact that you can implement different levels of research democratization and still protecting the control of professional UX researchers, it’s something worth considering.

Here’s how you can do it in your SaaS.

Determine the research needs of your company

Start by deciding why you need to conduct user research.

For instance, you may want to evaluate the success of a new feature or identify reasons why users are not adopting it.

Your goals could be very general as well. For example, you may want to gauge the overall user satisfaction.

Setting research goals is essential to choosing the right participants and research methodology. It’s also necessary to assess the effectiveness of the democratization project further down the line.

In-survey builder in Userpilot
In-survey builder in Userpilot.

Identify employees to participate in customer research

Democratization doesn’t mean that you will instantly involve every single employee in the project. To get meaningful insights and ensure the effectiveness of the process, you need to be a bit selective.

Which criteria should you choose when scouting for the right people?

  • Previous experience – good if they have it, but not essential.
  • Skills and background – look for people with strong analytical and problem-solving skills who have relevant experience in the area. For example, if you’re looking at improving feature adoption, product or marketing team members could be a good match.
  • Interest and enthusiasm – enthusiastic participants with a genuine interest in improving user experience are more likely to be engaged and contribute valuable insights.
  • Communication skills – they’re essential to conduct interviews and communicate research outcomes to stakeholders from various backgrounds.
  • Curiosity and open-mindedness – staff who are naturally curious and open to learning new things will go the extra mile to get to the root cause of your issues.
  • Bandwidth – research participation, along with the essential training, requires time and energy, so don’t dump it on someone who’s already struggling to stay afloat.

Provide research training and resources

To ensure that your research democratization efforts deliver the desired results, invest in staff training.

Researchers need to be familiar with:

  • Basic research principles
  • Data collection techniques
  • Data analysis and interpretation
  • Reporting and presentation skills
  • Research ethics and data privacy

How can you deliver the training?

Ideally, via a combination of different methods to cater to different learning styles and allow staff to develop practical skills. Why not start with e-learning modules, followed by live workshops and training events?

You could also back it up with mentoring and coaching programs and interest communities to enable expertise sharing within the company.

Don’t forget to give your staff the right tools.

It’s unrealistic to expect them to master specialist research tools, so prioritize user-friendly no-code solutions with flat learning curves. Look out for tools that integrate with analytics, feedback, and CRM platforms for richer insights and allow easy sharing of findings.

Like Userpilot.

Survey template library in Userpilot
Survey template library in Userpilot.

Assign responsibilities and document the research process

No matter how big or small the research project, make sure you document the processes. For example, create a data tracking plan detailing what to collect, why, how, and who is responsible for it.

In large research projects with lots of stakeholders, creating a RACI matrix can help you keep track of who is responsible for what.

What’s RACI?

It’s an acronym for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed.

To create the matrix, create a grid. On the Y axis, list all the research tasks, and on the X axis all the participants. Complete the cells in the main part of the grid with R, A, C or I to reflect different levels of responsibility.

Democratizing research: RACI matrix. Source: PMI.

Process documentation is important for 3 reasons.

First, it ensures consistency in how different teams approach research. This is critical for research validity.

Secondly, documentation makes staff onboarding and handovers easier. People come and go and if your key people suddenly disappear for one reason or another, it can slow down research dramatically.

Finally, research documentation allows you to review the processes and iterate on them.

Share and analyze user research for accurate research insights

Sharing the data and insights is an integral part of research democratization, so make sure you have clear guidelines for who shares what with whom.

For example, if non-researchers are responsible for facilitating research sessions and collecting data, they will have to share them with professional researchers in the team to review and generate accurate insights.

Once the insights are ready, they need to be shared with the team members who may not be involved in research but need access to make data-driven decisions.

With the right tools, analyzing data and sharing insights isn’t difficult.

For example, Userpilot allows you to build custom dashboards to highlight specific metrics from key data sets and visualize them in graphs and charts for easier interpretation. There’s also a dedicated NPS dashboard and you can tag qualitative responses to analyze them for trends and themes.

Democratizing research: User path visualization in Userpilot
User path visualization in Userpilot.

You can then easily share them with whoever needs to be in the know in your organization.

Democratizing research: sharing custom dashboards in Userpilot
Democratizing research: sharing custom dashboards in Userpilot.

Iterate and improve the research democratization process

If you’re only starting democratizing research in your SaaS, the odds are you’ll make mistakes here and there.

It’s good practice to get your team together regularly to reflect on their practices and identify opportunities for improvement.

In the early stages, do this fairly frequently, monthly if not weekly, to keep the feedback loops tight. Only as things get more established and the team gains experience can you make them less frequent.

Best practices for effective research democratization

We’ve covered how to implement research democratization, so we’re nearly there. Let’s wrap up with a few best practices that can potentially help you avoid some of the pitfalls.

  • Set up virtual research ‘office hours’ – assign a time when an experienced researcher is available to deal with questions and provide support with issues.
  • Create a research ops role – to keep track of who is conducting research, with whom they’re interacting, and the methods they use. In this way, you can identify issues and promote good practices.
  • Show, not tell – to promote good research practices, let staff learn from experienced colleagues by shadowing them.
  • Communicate the purpose to stakeholders – by being open about the goals and benefits of research democratization, it’s easier to secure their buy-in. For example, researchers won’t be afraid of losing their jobs if they train others to complete some of their tasks.


Democratizing research may sound like a revolutionary process, but the truth is that many organizations already do it to some extent, for example, by sharing research insights across different departments.

Not many do it well, though. To ensure adequate quality of research, you need robust processes, support systems, guardrails, and tools.

If you want to see how Userpilot assists in democratizing research in SaaS companies, book the demo!

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