User personas are commonly utilized in human-centered design. Personas can be considered a cross between sociological profiles, marketing archetypes, and personality types used to synthesize insights from observing, reading about, and talking to members of some target community.
In our case, our target is the professional community of researchers and practitioners who work to reduce natural hazard impacts and disaster risk. Impact360 staff, research assistants, and contractors asked over 150 members of our researcher-practitioner community about their needs and how Impact360 can support them.
Our staff spent many hours analyzing and synthesizing notes from and reports about these conversations. First, the four of us worked individually to identify themes.
Together, we turned these themes into a set of five personas that we think explain a large amount of the differences and similarities between the people Impact360 has talked to at this point or interacted with during our various careers.
We’ve labeled the five personas as Impacter, Solver, Spanner, Thinker, and Tinkerer.
The Impacter is a champion for significant, structural change. With their passion and clear direction, they quickly identify wrongs, reveal them to others, and inspire them to be part of their movement.
The Solver is a solution generator that figures out what to do next for their specific situation. With their pragmatism and decisive action, they keep the trains moving and find some resolution.
The Spanner is a bridge, translator, and or interpreter to some or all of the other personas to varying degrees. With their empathy and flexibility, they make connections between people, perspectives, and knowledge.
The Thinker is a knowledge generator with proven ways of thinking. With their time and space, they connect disparate ideas, find new or lift old ways of thinking, and put things in context.
The Tinkerer is a decoder that quickly figures out how something works. With their curiosity and persistence, they try new things, see how things fit together, and make important discoveries.
In developing these personas, we tried our best to ignore whether they are paid to do scholarly research or not or whether they identify as a researcher or a practitioner. That’s because, through this process, we learned that there are other similarities that we can more easily use to connect researchers and practitioners, integrate their approaches, and facilitate their collaboration. Also, we need to know the significant differences that pose the most prominent design challenges in developing tools to build capacity for the researcher-practitioner community to work together.
To reveal these similarities and differences, we placed these personas on various scales. The first of two scales with the most explanatory power is whether someone is most adept at or focused on higher-level things (big scale) versus lower-level things (small scale). The second is whether someone is most adept at or focused on developing understandings of problems versus developing solutions to problems.
In other words, Impacters work to create solutions to huge, often societal-scale problems. Solvers work to develop solutions to smaller (but not trivial), more immediate–organizational or community-level–problems. Thinkers work to understand those big-scale problems, and Tinkerers work to understand those small-scale problems. The Spanner is the bridge sitting in the middle. They find themselves all over the scales, wherever they need to be.
Of course, most people’s expectations, skills, and identities don’t fully align with any one of the four personas. The personas are abstract archetypes after all, so everyone is a Spanner to some degree. But most people will likely align with one persona to a much higher degree than the remaining three.
These are the insights we have from the analysis and synthesis of our researcher and practitioner conversation so far. These are the personas we’ll be using with you, at least while they are useful, to build the capacity of researchers and practitioners to reduce natural hazard impacts and disaster risk. We’ll be posting more in the future about the five personas to share how we are using them and how we think you can use them to converge with your counterparts.