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Mixed Methods Podcast: A Review/Recommendation

This week I thought I would write a post about Mixed Methods Podcast; why I listen to it, why I think it's a useful podcast for human-centred research, and, more specifically, why it could be useful for the cyber security field.

Mixed Methods is a podcast by Aryel Cianflone and also a Slack community interested in the how and why of user experience research. The episodes mainly involve interviews with industry and research experts on user experience topics, such as personas, how do to international research, or the researchers journey into user experience.

So, why is Mixed Methods Podcast useful for human-centred research?

1) Discussion of research methods

The podcast is a great way to understand how different methods, qualitative and quantitative, are applied in various teams and organisations, for example, Spotify's personas project. This was of particular interest to me, as I have seen the 'personas approach' criticised, for example for a lack of cross-cultural validity, and it was great to see the approach successfully utilised within an organisation.

‘Personas’ refer to fictional representations and generalizations of a group of users who exhibit similar attitudes, goals, and behaviours in relation to a particular product. At Spotify, personas refer to different types of listeners. The 'Personas - Spotify' episode described Spotify’s investment, research and company engagement methods in the creation of personas, and how they moved away from seeing their users en masse and as a generalised audience. The research included literature reviews of socio-technical and adaptive computing theories and diary studies, while the analysis made use of grounded theory. As a PhD researcher who uses similar qualitative methods, it was great to learn how these methods were used in such a large organisational project. If this personas project at Spotify interests you, you can listen to the podcast episode or read more on Spotify’s design blog here.

An episode I found particularly relevant to information security research reasons was ‘The Future is Ethical – Tristan Harris, Centre for Humane Technology’. This episode discussed how technology can often unintentionally harm users. As a PhD researcher in cyber security, an area where users are often the targets of cyber-attacks, and where users are often seen as the ‘problem’ in security design, this was of particular interest to me. For researchers in this area in general, this has to be one of the most important topics to be knowledgeable of. Technology products need not only to be usable, but ethical. Again, to hear more, go to the podcast.

2) Discussion of career pathways

The discussion of how a variety of different user experience researchers got into their chosen career is also useful. As a researcher who aims to work within the user research industry post-PhD, this podcast is encouraging as it demonstrates the many different career paths for user researchers and highlights the interdisciplinary nature of this kind of work. You get a variety of stories, of how people from an array of backgrounds either worked their way into their career or fell into it. Additionally, these people have worked in organisations with some of the biggest user experience groups and departments in the world, such as Googleand Spotify.

The podcast does not only interview and discuss the careers of user experience researchers such as Micheal Margolis, but also information architects such as Abby Covert, leadership coaches such as Laura Weiss and Design Ethicists such as Tristan Harris.

Mixed Methods has a great episode looking at the Disabled List, a disability-led organization that engages in disability as a creative practice. The episode ‘The Power of Disability – The Disabled List ft. Liz Jackson’ discusses creating space for disabled designers and advocating disability as a design advantage. The podcast also discusses how the Disabled List strategically places disabled designers into various design roles and demonstrates the unique perspective this brings to industry and technology design.

3) Insight into funded research

For early career researchers and PhD students, the podcast as a whole provides great insights into research with mass funding behind it. As a PhD student, funding can make aspects of human-centred research, such as participant recruitment, slow and difficult. It is therefore insightful to hear about projects where this aspect is not an issue.

4) Applicability to current times – COVID-19

In the podcast ‘Crisis Mode – Marie Huber, Third Plateau Social Impact Strategies’ Marie Huber talks about doing research in a crisis. Marie Huber has had an extremely interesting career doing crisis work in Afghanistan, Iraq and many service organisations during violent conflict and natural disasters. Marie now works for Third Plateau, a social impact strategy firm. This has given her a breadth of experience conducting research during a crisis, with participants who are also experiencing crisis. I found this podcast particularly useful as Marie Huber speaks about her experience in relevance to doing research during a mass pandemic and ‘crisis aware’ research.

Something I took from this episode was the importance of taking into account the impact of context on research. The space in which my research is now taking place is dramatically different to that of earlier this year. For example, for cyber security researchers the threat landscape has changed dramatically in the last few months. For those studying broader aspects of user research, this has changed how reliant people might be on technology, both for work and for human contact. As researchers we need to make sure we are responsive and adaptative to the current situation. Furthermore, as I have also touched upon in a previous blog post, the episode speaks about how researchers need to consider using new methods, re-structure how we might ask questions and how this impacts what you can ask about.

Why could Mixed Methods Podcast be useful for cyber security research?

The area of cyber security is still largely dictated by the more technological elements. The usability of cyber security technology and policy, although now a much bigger area than it was before, is still relatively under-researched.

User experience research has many avenues applicable to cyber security. For example, personas, as discussed above have in part previously been been applied to cyber security design research. For example, research has looked at using personas for designing information security awareness campaigns for different audiences. However, there are still more avenues to pursue and research to be done.

Various research methods used in user experience research, such as surveys, focus groups, interviews and diary studies have been widely applied to the area of cyber security and have provided useful insights. This podcast and the insight it offers might stimulate further consideration of the application of theory and research to user centred research in cyber security.

Summary

Overall, I would recommend the podcast to anyone doing human-centred research, or anyone with an interest in this area. The episodes I have given as examples are just a few of the many amazing episodes available. The user experience research area can also be further applicable to cyber security, and those working in this area could use this previous research as a resource to build and design more user-friendly information security systems and policy.

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