Introducing the Research Thinking Field Guide

Fundamentally, research is about helping people make better decisions, and it should be an integral part of how any team develops products and services.

For government agencies, research is even more important because they’re developing products and services to help the public. But too often, this process is overlooked or considered a simple “check the box” step to gather information.

At Ad Hoc, we believe that research is more than just collecting data. It’s about asking questions like what you need to know, why you need to know it, and how you’ll obtain the information. With that information, agencies can drive better decisions at every step of the process – and end with improved outcomes that align with their mission.

That’s why we’ve developed the Ad Hoc Research Thinking Field Guide. As the amount of data we have access to grows and areas like data science become more entrenched across the government, it’s essential to strategically consider both quantitative and qualitative data when making decisions; doing so creates better results for everyone involved.

Not only does informed decision-making improve the customer experience (CX) of government services, but it means an agency takes on fewer risks and can develop products faster because they’re asking the right questions every step of the way.

This field guide will help you understand:

  • Research Thinking and its core principles
  • Each step of the Research Thinking process
  • Common mistakes to avoid
  • Specific guidance on applying Research Thinking to strategy, CX, and risk reduction

Read the guide to learn how to develop a Research Thinking practice that supports impactful change by applying an understanding of human needs and behavior to the decision-making process.

The basics

At its core, Research Thinking – what we call ReThink – is about learning strategically. It helps agencies consider what information is needed to take action and how to most effectively gather that data. This strategy considers the questions:

  • What we are building?
  • Why we are doing it?
  • What impacts will it have?

While Research Thinking still includes standard activities like writing interview guides, recruiting participants, interviewing people, and developing surveys, our approach builds on this foundation. ReThink delves deeper to help teams understand the people, policies, systems, and overall environment involved.

Research Thinking also aims to do the least amount of research possible to make a specific decision well. However, it ensures enough research is done to enable a long-term impact, which improves the product, service, or outcomes iteratively over time.

ReThink for a more valuable experience

We’ve used the ReThink approach extensively in our work supporting customers. And because of the time we’ve spent honing this process and the results we’ve seen, we know it can be successful. But it requires a commitment to altering the ways agencies have been using research thus far.

By incorporating Research Thinking, agencies can transform their existing processes to be more inclusive and flexible in determining the best path forward. And from that transition comes more informed, effective, powerful decision-making and impactful results – for agencies and customers alike.

Would you like to talk more about how Ad Hoc can help you apply Research Thinking in your agency? Contact us at

If you’ll be at the upcoming Code for America Summit, join us! We’ll be sharing more insights during our workshop, Democratizing Research Thinking, on Tuesday, May 16, 2023.

Read the Ad Hoc Research Thinking Field Guide