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How TWG Embedded Research Design Ethics Into Its Company DNA

A research meeting.

Thinking of incorporating research design ethics into how your organization works?


To help you with the process here are some of the insights we learned at TWG while on our journey to embedding research design ethics into our company’s DNA.

Assess and Benchmark Using the Ethical Maturity Scale

The first step I would recommend to every organization that is serious about implementing research design ethics is to take stock of what you’re doing now and how well you’re doing it.

The assessment tool TWG used was the three-tiered Ethical Maturity Scale created by the Nielsen Norman Group.

If you decide to use it, be prepared to be surprised.

We were.

When it came to ethical practices, all of us at TWG thought that with our company’s code of conduct and the other people-focused measures already in place, we would do well on the Ethical Maturity Scale.

We scored 33 out of 100.

We discovered that we had had a lot of good practices in place but they weren’t as integrated as they needed to be or being followed on a consistent basis.

Put Together a Task Force of Ethical Champions from Each Department

Grassroots change is sparked by an individual or group of individuals. At TWG it was the UX Research department.

We recognized how following research design ethics would benefit our department and make TWG a better human-centred design agency.

But we also realized that there was a better chance of company-wide acceptance if we recruited at least one research design ethics enthusiast from each department in the organization to be part of our task force.This representative was able to champion the cause to their ‘people’ and also provided the other members of the task force with valuable perspective about their department and how research design ethics would impact it.

Get Senior Management on Board

As with any proposed initiative that will impact a company, the odds of successful adoption are greatest when the organization’s management team are on board.
The ideal way to do this is to be strategic with your presentation to upper management.

Review your company’s values, mission, code of conduct—any materials that publicly state what your company stands for. Determine which corporate position is most relevant to the cause and then frame ‘making a commitment to design research ethics’ as a natural extension of it.

Being strategic will get you time in front of management.

Presenting the findings from the Ethical Maturity Scale assessment and your strategy for improving it will get you the green light.

The management team at TWG is always receptive to employees bringing forth ideas. But when they heard what the Ethical Maturity Scale revealed, they instantly became enthusiastic supporters of our research design ethics initiative.

Confirm What Principles You’re Going to Follow

During the course of my research on design research ethics I came across a book published by IDEO called The Little Book of Design Research Ethics. It’s really informative and the principles it was promoting resonated with our team so we adopted them.

Prepare Your Materials

As mentioned earlier, in January of 2020 we determined what design research ethics gaps TWG had.
Next, we moved on to the material preparation stage. This was the most challenging part of the initiative because the work that was required had to be fitted in between our day-to-day client commitments. If not properly managed, this additional work could have become very time-consuming and infringed on hours that were supposed to be devoted to client business.

To ensure our team maintained a proper balance in this regard, the first thing we did was sit down and determine which tasks were high-impact and low-effort. Once we did this, we focused on accomplishing these tasks first before we tackled any of the larger undertakings like, for example, training sessions. By following this methodology our group was able to finalize:
our principles, develop our data management protocols, revise various forms so they reflected our design research ethics position and create training materials. All of this took place over the course of the summer.

Then in September and October we held training sessions for each department.

Reassess Using the Ethical Maturity Scale

Once the training was concluded and the design research ethics protocols were in place, we were all curious about how far TWG had come. So we dusted off the three-tiered Ethical Maturity Scale and reassessed the company.
When the review was complete we were pleased to find that our efforts had paid off.
In less than a year TWG had risen from the first tier into the second tier.

The research design ethics foundation is firmly in place at TWG and we look forward to putting in the work and further refinements necessary to take us to the next level.

Our steps (this timeline was presented internally)

Discover how research design ethics helps TWG uncover greater user insights.

Connect with a member of our TWG user research team, like Danielle, at to learn more about our process.