Will participants show for fieldwork?

May 7, 2020

Let’s be real: While some aspects of a physical product like a medical device or home appliance can be evaluated over Zoom, there are certain experiences that can only be measured in person as it requires physical interaction interact with the device. As locations relax shelter-in-place restrictions, the user experience (UX) industry prepares to return to this necessary face-to-face research. Our strategy for this includes many additional safety precautions to keep researchers, participants, and observers safe. However, we know that no matter how much preparation we put in, if participants are reluctant to take part in face-to-face sessions, then it’s all moot.

Following on the excellent work of our sister company uintent, we conducted a survey in the US to find out just how ready participants are to return to the lab.

Together with our recruitment partner of many years, Contact Design, we surveyed 1377 people from April 28-30. When asked “If appropriate protective measures are taken, how willing are you to participate in one-on-one, in-person sessions compared to the situation before the novel coronavirus crisis?” two-thirds (66%) responded the same or more willing to participate. Only 6% said they would no longer participate.

Contrast this with Germany where 88% of the respondents said they would be “more willing/same”; this is likely due to the fact that the coronavirus has hit the US harder than Germany.

Other notable findings from the survey include:

Participants who self-identified as being in a higher-risk category were more reluctant to participate than those that are not at high risk.
Women were less likely to say they would return to participation than men.
Interestingly, both the youngest and oldest age groups (25-34 and 65+) were less willing than the other groups (35-64) to participate.
There were three occupations with more than 50 respondents that were more likely than average to participate:

Of respondents who work in the Health Care Industry:

There were no differences in responses based on employment status.
Health Care Professionals:
Health Care Workers (not HCPs):
Health Care Workers (not HCPs):

We also asked participants if they would be uncomfortable participating in studies in certain content areas. 76% of the participants said they would be willing to participate in studies of any kind. Of the studies that participants indicated they would not be willing to participate in the percentages were very low and broke down as follows:

Are there any types of studies that you would NOT feel comfortable participating in? (Check all that apply)

When we look at what participants thought was important to protect everyone’s safety during testing, participants did not differentiate much:
Respiratory masks
Protective gloves
Participant handwashing on arrival
Plexiglass partitions in waiting area
Social distancing
Plexiglass partitions in interview room
Participants and interviewers in separate rooms
Hygiene instructions
Disinfection of all surfaces
Signs on hygiene rules of conduct

Hygiene checklist

Essentially everything is important.

We also collected open responses. These provided an opportunity to understand what we could do to ensure confidence and safety in the testing process. There were 400+ responses, most were confirmatory. But there were a few responses that mentioned checking for fever on entry and providing assurance to the participants that all the people involved in the testing were COVID free.

We have adopted these safety guidelines, among others, and believe that we will exceed the expectations of our participants to be able to provide a successful and safe testing experience for all who participate.

The answer to the question posed in the title is “Yes, participants seem willing to return” but we, as researchers, need to demonstrate that we can keep them – and everyone else involved – safe in these unprecedented times.