What we’ve learned from six months of in-person research during COVID

October 28, 2020
Participants are eager to engage, minimizing risk is key to conducting in-person research in unprecedented times.

When COVID-19 first reared its ugly head, the global UX community was one of many that reacted in despair as we considered the future of our work: How were we going to work in these unprecedented times? How could we work safely with people when we were advised to not be around one another? As a business that conducts healthcare-related research, our work has been considered essential, and in-person research was permitted to continue despite lockdowns. Over the past seven months, we have garnered two major learnings that have allowed us to keep our research activities going while ensuring the health and safety of our team and participants.

First, we know that participants want to engage. Even in April, while most of the world was still in a state of lockdown, two-thirds of respondents to an international survey said that they would be as likely or more likely to participate in an in-person research study as compared to before COVID. A combination of increased free time and a decrease in income due to employment loss or reduction may be contributing factors in this figure.

Second, forethought and minor adjustments have gone a long way. For each of our in-person studies since COVID began, we have taken the following steps to minimize the risk incurred by all parties involved:

    • Avoid highly affected metro locations to reduce the risk of transmission.
    • Regardless of study location, build COVID-19 screening questions into recruitment screeners as well as onsite screening protocols to further minimize risk.
    • Take appropriate measures to prevent the spread of the virus in the event COVID-19 screening measures are not 100% effective (e.g., sanitize the test environment before and after every session, provide gloves and/or masks for researchers and participants).
    • Offer remote viewing for your stakeholders to minimize the need for travel and to reduce the number of observers.
    • Plan for more sessions than you need to account for higher no-show rates.
    • Plan for even “easy” recruits to be more difficult and offer higher compensation and buffer recruitment lead time.
    • If considering research with HCPs, further prioritize remote methods in recognition that our healthcare providers are very busy combating the spread of the virus and remote sessions will be easier to attend.

By following these steps, we’ve been able to conduct all necessary in-person research without putting projects or individuals at risk.

As COVID challenges continue to evolve and we continue to learn through trial and error, our practices may change to reflect new learnings. For now, though, we have fallen into a comfortable, yet vigilant, practice which allows us to conduct in-person research that resembles what we were doing before March.

We’re interested in learning how you have overcome in-person research challenges during the last six months! Please share your thoughts in the comments!


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