American Sociological Association

ASA Footnotes

A publication of the American Sociological AssociationASA News & Events
May/June 2020

Essential Skills for Researchers during COVID-19: Agility and a Quick Pivot

Samantha Jaroszewski, UX Researcher, Yahoo

I am a User Experience (UX) researcher leading projects for three product experiences at Yahoo — Yahoo Fantasy Sports, Yahoo Sports, and Yahoo Sportsbook. During this unique historical and social moment, I know that fans everywhere are sorely missing games and other sporting events. There are not many days in a typical year when there are no major sports to watch, and now we have months of such days. With a major source of entertainment removed, what are sports fans watching, reading, and discussing? How are they filling their time? It’s now part of my job to figure out the answers to those questions. 

In my experience, the biggest difference between conducting research in an academic setting and an industry setting is the greater agility of research projects undertaken for corporate teams. Fast research cycles mean the length of an individual research project--from request through recommendations—can be as short as a week. Each study produces a nearly endless list of potential additional “fast follow” studies. An advantage of this quick and iterative model of research is the ability to pivot, re-assessing projects flexibly amid changing company priorities, shifting product roadmaps, or diverging design decisions. This kind of agility has been a great help to me in the last few months. 

For me, a typical week of UX Research might involve a mix of remote and in-person data collection. I often use the publicly accessible website for remote data collection. This allows me to study how users interact with prototypes, early designs, and production versions of our websites, even though the user and I aren’t in the same room. But the sudden and total retreat from personal contact due to COVID-19 has swiftly removed the option for in-person studies. To continue to deliver on my research goals, I have had to pivot completely to remote testing. This has been a challenge. Sitting beside our users, hearing their thoughts, watching their actions, and talking to them about their experiences, is both the most delightful and most impactful part of my research. 

On the upside, this sudden shift has created an opportunity for newly generative research. As sports fans look for ways to distract themselves from the global crisis, in the absence of games, practices and even gyms, what are people doing differently? What behaviors and perceptions are they holding onto? Where does the internet fit into these experiences? To try to answer these questions I have been following discussions among our users elsewhere on the internet, including the Fantasy Basketball subreddit and across various Twitter accounts. I’ve also been using video conferencing, listening to people to better understand what is changing and how (and what is staying the same). We’re two months into this—an eternity in the world of rapid-delivery research—and I’ve still got more questions than answers. One thing I do know, however, is that agility and the ability to pivot rapidly is going to be essential for moving forward.