Safety guidelines for in-person research

8 min readJun 12, 2020


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The world is opening up for business again

Our UX research industry, by its very nature, is about interacting and speaking with people. Since we haven’t been able to do this in-person with the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve been using remote research tools and practices to provide some insights for our clients and product teams. Remote Testing in a Covid-19 world — UXalliance

Remote user research works for many research needs but not all, for example:

  • Physical product studies
  • Highly sensitive, classified concept validation testing
  • Financial software, demo or sensitive research
  • In-context, immersive and some ethnographic research (there are some mixed methods to gain deeper insights through remote tools, but it is not quite the same)
  • Wearables, eye-tracking, neuromarketing etc.

As countries start to relax their quarantine measures, we as UX researchers are also moving back to a new version of in-person research. In doing this, what considerations do we need to adopt for the safety and well-being of everyone involved?

Are consumers ready to engage with in-person research?

Some countries are finding that people are willing and interested to participate, if the right safety measurements have been put in place. Every country has its own sets of fears and apprehensions with conducting in-person research after Covid-19. Some countries had severe lockdowns while others were a lot more relaxed. Ensure you are up to date with the regulations for the specific country before conducting research and ensure you address the safety concerns that participants may have in the country, context is key.

Ensuring the safety and prevention of Covid-19 transmission is the highest priority and this means minimising people interaction. When you think of in-person research there are many people involved from recruiters, participants, moderators, translators, researchers and observers each with their own set of considerations. We will give safety tips for each of these groups in this article. But first we will address the topics that apply to all in-person studies.

General considerations for in-person research

During lockdown we didn’t distinguish between studies involving a single participant or multiple participants. Remotely we were able to connect safely with any number of participants that was required for the study. However, in this phase of Social Distancing, you should consider in-person research with single participants only initially, rather than trying to accommodate groups.

Overall, here is a general checklist for safety in doing in-person research:

  • The first and most obvious would be to adhere to the safety guidelines released by the World Health Organisation, as well as any additional recommendations given by the specific Country Health Authorities. For example; adhere to the social distancing advice of your health authority if it is greater than the recommended social distance of the World Health Authority. Some countries insist on wearing masks, others have specific conditions like only wearing masks in public transport. Ensure you and your team are comfortable with all the regulations.
  • Check the research facility’s deep cleaning protocol and safety guidelines and inform all members of staff, as well as participants of the measures taken.
  • Privacy and COVID-19 Health and Safety measures may be dependent on the country. You may need to collect additional information, like telephone numbers as well as basic temperature and other health data needed for Public Health Screening requirements.
  • Ensure adequate space for waiting and finished participants and ensure there is no overlap.
  • Ask participants not to bring additional people if you cannot cater for extra people in the reception area.
  • Avoid parallel tests and if unavoidable stagger the tests so they finish at different times and cross-over is minimised.
  • Allow for extra time (minimum of 30 minutes) between sessions to clean all the equipment. Ensure the lab, sled and all materials are disinfected between sessions.
  • Have cleaning kits for the teams and safety kits (wipes, masks, gloves and personal sanitiser) for the participants who do not have their own.
  • Avoid serving refreshments and food prior or during testing to avoid the removal of masks and sharing plates. Ensure you let recruiters and participants know and ask them to bring their own water and drinks.

Safety considerations for Recruiters

The recruiter should check certain conditions with the participant before the session, to ensure everyone stays safe.

Recruiters will need to include additional health screener questions, ask participants if they;

  • Have been unwell in the last two weeks.
  • Have taken care of someone with Covid-19 in the last two weeks.
  • Have traveled from a hotspot area where Covid-19 is active.
  • Live with a first responder or healthcare professional working in Covid-19 care. (Except of course when the study is a healthcare study).

The recruiter must inform the participant that they should not attend the session if they start to feel unwell at any point. Plan an extra check up call to verify the participant is healthy the day before the study. If a participant is unwell they should not attend and buffers need to be in place.

In addition:

  • All Non-disclosures, disclaimers should be signed electronically using docusign (or a similar tool) or could be captured with video recording of acceptances.
  • All incentives should be done online to prevent the exchanges of cash with electronic receipts.

Avoid in-person recruiting wherever possible otherwise:

  • Ensure the screener is completed electronically without the exchange of paper
  • Adhere to general safety guidelines

Safety considerations for Participants

The basic safety guidelines for the participant starts with their journey to the research location. It would be preferable to use their own transport; car, bike, motorcycle or scooter and reduce the use of public transport. If public transport cannot be avoided, try to schedule the session outside peak hours, to avoid overcrowded means of transport where distance between people cannot be guaranteed.

When participants enter the research location, it is important that they wash their hands. If they are wearing gloves, offer them a new pair of disposable gloves (they should throw away the gloves they were wearing when they entered the research location). Gloves might not be practical when participants need to do mobile testing, and therefore washing hands is preferred over gloves when touching a device.

If the moderator and/or the participant are wearing masks ensure the sound is not impacted. If needed, look to specific masks (surgical masks) that are still audible for recording.

Just before starting the session, inform the participants about your safety measures and the cleaning protocols taken before proceeding with the study. It could be a good idea giving the participant a cheat sheet including basics for safety. The moderator should clean the devices that are used during the study while the participant is present to make the participant feel comfortable that the surfaces are all clean. Nevertheless, the contact with the surfaces should be minimised during the session.

During the session the moderator and participant should keep adequate distance. There are various ways to set-up the room to ensure distance, ranging from having the moderator and participant in separate rooms during the test while observing the session through the one-way mirror, to having indications on the floor indicating the area in which the participant should remain during the test as well as indications for the moderator. Consider having flexi-glass dividers on the table. It is easier to ensure safety measures as this is a controlled environment like an in-lab study.

In studies where context is required, such as in-home or in-office studies, the environment is not fully controlled by the researcher and therefore safety measures may be more difficult to implement;

  • Ensure a mask is worn if possible
  • Ensure the area where the interview will take place is well ventilated, move outside if needs be, keeping sufficient distance between the participant and moderator.
  • Ask whether you can clean the surfaces that will be touched by the researcher.

As researchers we need to ensure both moderators and participants are kept safe during this time ensure you get the correct approvals from the participants.

Safety considerations for Moderators

Do not moderate when you have a cold, allergy, sinus anything that would make participants feel uncomfortable.

Wear gloves and wipe down all areas with disinfectant. Ensure you clean the table, sled, mobile technology, prototype and physical devices, anything the participant will use or around where they are sitting, and also where the previous person sat. Throw away gloves in the bin and wash hands with soap and water.

Ensure the moderator informs participants that they have not travelled, or live with, or care for someone with Covid-19 etc. This can easily be included in the normal study introductions and protocols. Other tips include:

  • Keep tissues and disinfectant/alcohol wipes handy throughout the session.
  • Offer disposable gloves and masks that work with voice recording equipment if this will make them feel more comfortable.
  • Allow the participant to stop the session if they feel uncomfortable. Allow more time between sessions to avoid contact between participants.

Safety considerations for Observers, Researchers & Translators

Where possible, request that observers, translators and researchers login remotely to view the session. Arrange for an online noticeboard or chat to collaborate on observer notes and comments. If observers are in the same setting, ensure the observation room is well ventilated, have clear demarcation of seating, use disinfectant to wipe down area where observers will be sitting. Any collaborative analysis activities also need to allow for social distancing. Wash hands with soap and water afterwards. Keep tissues and alcohol wipes handy.

Keep calm and carry on researching safely

With adequate planning we can resume in-person research as each country eases their lockdown measures, but it will require extra planning and time to ensure safety protocols are in place. Be transparent with the client, recruitment agency and all people involved with this research to ensure everyone does their bit to be as safe as possible.

We cannot afford to miss out on the deep data gained from in-person research. With the right precautions we can get the insights without putting anyone at risk.

Join us for our panel discussion on this topic

Want to hear more from the UXalliance local experts? Why not join us on 24 June 1PM (CEST) and again at 6PM (CEST) for a live discussion on how to research in the times of COVID-19. Convert to your time zone

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