The second critical step is to dig deeper to understand the groups and individuals who are working on the management issue and who have some authority or motivation to act on the issue. These are your potential users. Start by asking them to articulate the management need from their perspective. Take the time to understand their context, their priorities, and where they see the need, and opportunity, for the application of new knowledge.
You will likely find a variety of intended users in a position to help address the issue, such as agencies, municipalities, Indigenous governments, and community organizations. Your outreach should seek to understand and reflect that variety of actors.
If you have a specific project idea in mind, start sharing those ideas to see who is interested, but remain open to new opportunities and new ways to frame your idea. Actively seek conversations that expand your understanding of the issue at hand.
Actively listen to intended users and probe with questions
People familiar with the issue often can connect you with key potential user groups whose members can help address the issue. Start asking questions. Here are a few prompts to guide your background research and conversations with potential users.
Questions to help identify intended users
- What users or user groups are involved in addressing the management need?
- What people need, or could use, new information or tools to inform their work and decisions related to the management need?
- What is each group's role or management authority in relation to the management need?
- What individuals could you engage to better understand each intended user's role and needs?
- What individuals, beyond immediate users, could you engage to ensure inclusivity of perspectives and context, so that you can be fully responsive to the management need?
Questions to help understand how the project can meet intended user needs
- What problems or challenges could the project help you address?
- What information should you have to address the management need?
- What kinds of products, tools, or other outputs would be useful to your work?
- Do you need information or a tool focused on a specific geographic, temporal, or other scale?
- Do you know of opportunities for using project-generated information or tools? What barriers might you encounter in using project-generated information or tools?
Tip: Map out the needs of potential users
Use the template Understanding Intended User Needs to map out the potential user groups and identify their challenges, interests, and needs related to the management issue. A single project probably cannot address all needs, but this tool should help you home in on a smaller set of primary users and a closely related set of challenges that a project could address.
Tool: Understanding Intended User Needs
The editable PDF and Word template Understanding Intended User Needs will help you identify potential users involved in a management issue and then map out their specific needs for decision making context and information.
En Español: Entendiendo las Necesidades de Usuarios Finales
Tip: Start thinking about products early in the project
In a collaborative science project, the best products are those you develop not just for your intended users, but with your users.
It takes time and resources to develop effective tools and products. This is often a highly iterative process that should occur with input from your intended users. Consider developing a strategy for product development from the outset of the project.
Here are some suggestions when thinking about product development:
- Recruit team members with communications and/or marketing expertise to help refine the product development approach;
- Think critically about your collaborative process, and how it can help you meet your project's core purpose; and
- Build draft product milestones into the project timeline from the start, including time to seek and respond to user input and test products with their intended audiences.
For more tips and resources related to communications and product development, visit the Fine-Tune the Products section.