In our travels, we’ve both come across Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) as a way to set good research objectives and make sure everyone in a research team can see what we are aiming towards.
OKRs offer a simple – but effective – framework for developing objectives. Originally devised by John Doerr
and largely adopted in the tech industry, OKRs aren’t commonly or widely used in research. But we’re experimenting with them in our own research, and think they might be useful.
Simply, OKRs have two components.
the Objectives: a broad and high-level target or goal. A thing you want to do.
the Key Results: specific tasks, outcomes or outputs that’ll let you know you’re hitting your objective and doing the thing you want to do.
Let’s say you want to do some research to understand what effect of a new local library policy.
One objective might be:
- Obj 1: Understand how the new policy has affected local people’s access to courses, training and resources.
Your key results that correspond to that objective might be:
- KR1.1: Gather quantitative data about how often resources were used before and after the policy change and identify any changes.
- KR1.2: Conduct 20 interviews with local people about their use of resources and how the policy will affect that.
Note two things about our hypothetical example. Firstly, the objective sounds an awful lot like a research question. That’s intentional as, largely, your objective should be to answer your research questions.
But setting your questions out as objectives is a useful mental exercise that a) forces you to frame the question as a task you’ll carry out and b) helps you think through your questions in a new light to ensure they’re the right things to ask. If your question can’t easily be turned into an objective, or looks a little pointless or directionless when turned into an objective, you might want to rethink it.
Secondly, this example doesn’t get to the impact of the research, and you should reserve one or two objectives to focus on that. Why does the research matter? Who do you want to read the research? What will they do with it?
This might translate into an objective about getting the library managers to read the research and change their policy to improve access for local people. The key results might be publishing a report, hosting a workshop and sharing your data with library staff.
Ok, that’s what OKRs are. Next, putting them into practice.