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Resources: UPA 2006 Idea Markets

What are the Best Practices for Conducting International Studies?

Activators: Kim Oslob, Visto Corporation

Thought Starter Questions

  1. What issues have you faced when conducting international studies and how have you handled them?
  2. How do you prepare and plan for the study? Are there differences taken into account depending on the culture you are testing in?
  3. How long do you typically take to prepare for this type of study and why?
  4. Do you typically conduct the study in English, with a translator, or with a native consultant and why do you choose one over the other?
  5. If you use a consultant or translators how do you typically locate one that best meets you and your companies needs?
  6. What are the cost factors to keep in mind and how do you choose what you can cut back on and what you can't.
  7. How do you typically get up to speed on the cultural differences and protocols for conducting user studies?
  8. How do you determine the appropriate type and level of compensation for each country?

Executive Summary

International research is still fresh, new, and for the most part uncharted territory in many companies. Topics discussed were mostly related to various issues that one does not think of when conducting this type of research. Many issues were unique according to culture or unique according to the type of research that was being conducted. Participants were very interested in getting the answers and hearing about other’s experiences and how they handled the challenges that go along with conducting international research.

Discussion Details

Cultural Differences

Many issues arise from not understanding the culture that you are testing in. There may also be differences in how individual countries conduct research. What is acceptable in that culture? What planning or logistics come into play when conducting an international study?

Many countries may not allow NDA’s or recording. This factor must be taken into consideration before starting your research project. Verbal NDA’s may be acceptable or it may be already assumed that what is discussed will not be disclosed outside of the scope of the session. Careful planning must be taken when working with another country and your legal team to determine the best method for protecting your proprietary information as well as not offending the participants.

Technical/Logistical Issues

Technical issues as well as logistics need to be well researched and thought out prior to your visit. One participant shared her experiences with research in a foreign country. At a certain time of day all electricity was turned off which made it very difficult to conduct a session. Another researcher discovered that certain equipment caused issues in customs and learned that having local equipment to rely on or sending out the equipment early was key.

Hiring a Translator or Consultant

Hiring a translator or consultant to conduct the session came along with its own set of challenges. You are relying on the assumption that the translator is indeed giving you a trustworthy translation and that they are not coaching the participants. The translator as well may be biased if they have a connection to the product you are testing. It also may not be considered good form in the particular culture to probe the participant even if the translator or consultant claims they are.

Another stumbling block could be the method that a consultant employs. Even though you have stated you want the session conducted using a certain methodology, the consultant and or culture may interpret it as differently. They may in fact think they are delivering what you expect but in reality there are modifications that affect the consistency that you expected.

Solutions and Lessons Learned

There are many solutions and lessons learned through trial and error when conducting international research.

  • Take the time to immerse yourself in the culture you are testing in.
  • Understand fully the culture you are testing in.
  • Have patience and give respect to all parties involved with the research.
  • Clearly identify requirements and goals to all parties involved to include the translators and contract researchers.
  • Have a presence in the country you are representing during the actual study. It is always a good idea to monitor these studies and to bring along a native speaker to translate for you during the sessions.
  • Get a briefing from locals on the situations (e.g. no electricity after 5 pm).
  • Try conducting local research with internationals who are recent to the U.S.
  • Over accommodate for time. These types of studies always take longer to plan and execute over a typical study.
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare.


Many topics discussed were pretty unique to what was being tested and the goals of the research. There is limited information published on various issues and solutions for conducting international research. This is seemed to be overall challenging for everyone involved in this type of research. Defining your own best practices from information gleaned from others as well as from your own experiences seems to be the best method for improving your success with international research.

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