Top down and bottom up – gaining powerful inclusive insights

By Christine Hemphill | 18th November 2018

Tom and I presented to the fabulous community that attends the London Accessibility Meetup for Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) 2018.  Our topic was how to gain the best inclusive insights to help support the greatest value and improvement in customer inclusion. What questions to ask, of who, and how?

Our basic premise was that taking a combination of two research approaches can generate the most powerful insights for value-based decision making and improving inclusion. One of these we denote as bottom up, the other one, top down.

If you prefer to read or scan a written article rather than watch the full presentation, we have summarised the key concepts below. Alternatively, if you prefer to watch the presentation, please click on the YouTube video at the bottom of this article to go to the video of the evening. Lastly, if you just wish to scan the presentation at your own leisure, there is a link to a copy on SlideShare here.

Bottom-up – listening to your customers with access needs

The bottom-up approach is the most obvious. It requires listening to your customers, users or staff who have access needs. These are the people who know best what limitations may exist in the accessibility or usability of your offering.

Asking them in a way that suits them and the research focus “How they perceive the physical, digital and/or service environment?” “What works for them and what doesn’t?” “What they can work around and how, and what is a clear barrier to them?”. Importantly also “How would they prefer to experience the environment? What could make it even better”.

At Open we use a range of mainly qualitative research approaches for this. The selected approach depends on the environment, core customer journeys within the research scope, the stage of development of the product/service/space and the demographics of the target audience.

User research methodologies include:

  • user testing
  • mystery shopping
  • accompanied shopping (with a researcher observing – so behavioral analysis is also possible)
  • focus groups
  • online &/or phone surveys
  • co-creation
  • diary studies

The insights generated from this research offer a deep understanding of personal impacts of the current level of inclusion (or exclusion) offered within the “in-scope” environment.

User insight is highly specific to the industry, brand, actual product, target user base, and scope selected. It offers rich quotes, video (if part of the research plan) and stories that can be very powerful for sharing across a business, or with other collaborators. These could include digital design agencies, interior architects or external service providers. Bottom-up is all about real people saying what they really think about the environment created or in the process of creation.

Open Inclusion is able to offer this style of user research very efficiently thanks to our fabulous research panel of nearly 400 people across the UK. This community covers all main demographic categories as well as an extensive range of inclusion characteristics, access needs, preferences, adaptation approaches such as assistive technologies and attitudes. Our sub-communities within the panel, each led by a Community Lead with lived experience of that category include:

  • vision
  • hearing
  • mobility/dexterity
  • neuro-diversity
  • complex conditions
  • advanced age

In summary, the strength of user research is the deep, personal, specific, highly relatable and solutions-oriented insight it provides.

The limitation is that although it offers deep insights, it usually is relatively limited in number.

Top down – the likely number of your customers with access needs

Value created or lost = impact (positive or negative) * number of people impacted

To close the gap between the impact on an individual level, or for a specific community of people (for example screen reader users or people with restricted mobility) we also work with national, market and customer datasets to understand how many people are likely to be impacted.  This is the top-down approach to enumerate the breadth of impact from the bottom-up approach that we described above which can generate the depth.

Open Inclusion have created a “Return on Investment in Inclusion” model (ROI2) to help organisations better understand the relative overall impact of differing investment decisions as they design, build and service various environments. This is a financial measure of inclusion (or exclusion) in design and delivery.

This model leverages a combination of nationally representative datasets which have information on disability and impairments captured by access need category that we have worked with extensively. We then match these to customer datasets by aligning them through demographics such as age, gender and region. Jointly these provide a likely profile of the organisation’s current customer base including access needs.

When combined with specific user research of varying environments from the bottom-up approach, this data then can numerate the overall impact of relative decisions. It can help ensure that the ever constrained budgets are spent on including the maximum customers, users or employees, the most profoundly.

Together these research approaches defined how many people are likely to be impacted and how deeply.

The analogy we use in the presentation is that of pointillism style artworks. This is where the artist uses many specific dots to make the detailed image. In our analogy, the user testing offers richly coloured and textured dots (but with unknown white space between) whereas the market and business dataset analysis provide the overall pattern of colour within which the dots sit. Between them, the image is rendered more clearly than either research approach if used in isolation.

A picture of a pointillist painting

Georges Seurat’s pointillist style painting “A Sunday on the Island of La Grande Jatte”

Link to the presentation