How to safely start F2F research after the lockdown
Covid-19 is not the end of lab-based user research. The worldwide lockdown has brought our possibilities for F2F user research to a virtual standstill in recent weeks. But an end to the lockdown will come gradually, and the phase of the “New Normal” will begin. We must determine what can be done to conduct safe lab interviews under these changed conditions. We have compiled a series of practical measures and had them evaluated by study participants regarding their feeling of safety and willingness to participate in studies.
The New Normal
A comprehensive lockdown is currently in force in almost all countries, which makes classic lab-based user interviews impossible. UX professionals have reacted quickly in this situation and have switched their research needs to remote methods as far as possible. Our ReSight Global company also developed a tracking map to determine what types of research could be done in 22 key global markets with information gathered from our UX partners around the world on a weekly basis to assist colleagues with global research project planning. In the meantime, however, it is also foreseeable that in the coming weeks the first countries will relax the measures again or have already done so. Public life will partly return to normal, but the danger from Covid-19 will accompany us for months to come. We will have to find ways to navigate the "new Normal". We must find measures that will allow us to conduct lab interviews again and at the same time protect our study participants, our clients, and our colleagues from infection. This is especially important for products that are not suitable for remote settings (e.g. physical user interface, high confidentiality, complex test setting, etc.).
Practical measures for safe F2F research
How can we create a secure studio environment for F2F interviews? And above all, what measures are important from the point of view of study participants? We have compiled a list of potential measures and had them evaluated by panelists for qualitative studies. In cooperation with our local recruitment partner mercatus est, we surveyed over 600 representative study participants in Germany. (Our US colleagues from BoldInsight have run a similar survey for US participants. You can find their results on their page.) We wanted to know which of the measures were most important for their personal sense of security and their willingness to participate in studies.
The results show that study participants are expecting basic hygiene measures. These include washing hands, keeping the minimum distance, and regular surface disinfection. Advanced measures, such as partitions in the interview room, or even a spatial separation of test person and interviewer, however, are of little relevance. We also asked the participants which additional measures would be important to them.
Even if the number of respondents is low, it’s worth highlighting that the participants mentioned to still include distance markings or separations in the entire studio area (similar to those currently used in retail), regular ventilation of rooms, and the provision of hand disinfection in all rooms. Finally, we asked how willing the panellists are to participate in studies with appropriate safety measures and whether they would consider themselves a risk group.
The good news is that the vast majority (80%) of the study participants are just as willing to participate now as they were before the corona crisis. Only 10% say that their willingness is lower than before, and only 1% say that they would not participate for the time being. So, at least from the participants' point of view, there is nothing to stop lab interviews! Approximately 20% of the panellists would count themselves as a risk group. This means that a fifth of the participants could potentially drop out if exclusion criteria are included in the recruitment process (see below).
Adjust recruitment and study design
Measures should also be taken for recruitment and study design to further minimize the general risk of infection for all involved. In particular, the exclusion of people from risk groups should be considered first. This relates to, for example:
- Older people (60+ years) and people with previous illnesses (including cardiovascular, pulmonary diseases etc.)
- People who show cold/flu symptoms in the days before an interview
- People who were in a high-risk area in the 14 days before an interview
Certain groups and measures are covered by official security measures, so official regulations should be consulted prior to project launch. Other measures that should be considered when planning a study may be:
- Decide for shorter interview durations in order to avoid long contact times (larger test scopes can be distributed over larger or several samples)
- Plan longer intervals between interviews to allow for disinfection measures between sessions and to minimize contact between study participants
Steps to a hygiene plan
We recommend creating a hygiene plan prior to the lab study, outlining the planned measures. The following points should be considered:
- Check the official local hygiene regulations and measures. These can change at short notice, so they should be consulted before each study.
- Create or update your local hygiene plan accordingly (potential measures see above).
- Inform study participants and other stakeholders about the planned measures on site. Send out an information sheet of maximum 1 page.
- Create a checklist to ensure that the measures are implemented on site.
- Document the measures taken during the field phase.
Keep calm and keep on researching!
When conducting lab interviews, UX researchers are responsible for the safety of external study participants and of the project team. Therefore, the preparation of a hygiene plan is an important step towards the new normality of F2F research in times of Covid-19. If you have first-hand experience with it, share it with the UX Community!
We have spend quite some time thinking about the impact of the Corona pandemic on the UX business. Here are some more of our thoughts on the topic: If you are interested in learning more about our remote and distanced testing capabilities, you can find an overview here or see how we have adapted our lab to the new normality in our news section Our new UX-lab for safe F2F user research.