How to identify the users of your service and recruit participants to take part in research.

You need to spend time with your team planning how you’ll identify user types, and find representative users.

Finding the right users can be difficult and take time and effort. Do not underestimate how long this will take.

Identifying your user types

You may not have a clear idea who your users are, so you should prioritise understanding them at the beginning of the project.

Use the knowledge in the team, as well as existing research and service information to help you, including:

  • data collected from any existing systems, associated websites, social channels and call centres
  • reports or studies about the service or policy area
  • results from kick-off workshops with the project team

Then identify user types with these different perspectives:

  • look out — people who will use the service, for example, citizens and stakeholders
  • look in — people who will use the service as part of their job, including frontline staff, operations and management
  • look differently — people who have particular ways of using the service because they have distinct needs, including experts, and users with disabilities or specific support needs

Now you can focus on the detail. Within the user types you’re targeting, and depending on the service you’re designing, you need to consider a representative spread.

Depending on your research objectives, your criteria might be:

  • a particular demographic —​ for example, women under 30
  • a specific target user group —​ for example, small business owners or Jobcentre staff
  • particular circumstances —​ for example, users who have recently moved home or witnessed a crime
  • people with specific disabilities or ways of accessing your service —​ for example, users who rely on a screen reader or speech recognition software
  • a specific level of digital skills or use of digital technology —​ for example, users who have basic online skills

Review your criteria with your team to make sure you’re looking for the right people for your research questions.

Finding the users

To recruit representative participants for each user type you can:

  • work with a professional body, specialist charity, community group or policy teams who may have existing networks you can make use of
  • create a panel of potential users — for regular research with a specific group of people
  • invite users of your existing service
  • find people at a venue on the day
  • use a research recruitment agency
  • survey

If you have a list of people who use your service or database of email addresses you’ll need to find out why this was collected.

These people should have given permission for your organisation to hold this information, and been told under what circumstances they will be contacted.

If your reason for contacting them falls within the reason their personal information is being held then you can contact them.

If not, you should not use this information. If you’re recruiting people with disabilities, local support groups or charities might be a helpful point of contact.

Avoid using your own staff for research unless you’re designing a service that they’re likely to use.

People who are close to the project might have formed their own ideas. This means that they may not be able to provide unbiased feedback.

Using a recruitment agency

Recruitment agencies are effective at recruiting members of the general public at short notice. There’s a cost involved, but it’s often worth it because finding people and booking them in can take a long time.

A good recruitment agency can find participants quickly and reliably, usually within 10 days.

You’ll need to provide them with a recruitment brief, and then work closely with them to make sure they understand and meet it.

Ask your potential agency about their experience in recruiting participants with disabilities. When you’ve appointed them, you can give them specific disability requirements to help them recruit the right participants for your project.

Finding people at a venue

If you want to do pop-up research, which involves going to a specific venue and approaching people directly, you should:

  • go to a place where your target users are likely to be — for example, a library, college or community group
  • get permission to use the area
  • encourage people to take part, but don’t put anyone under pressure

Including participants with disabilities

When you’re recruiting participants with disabilities, check if they want or need:

  • to be contacted in a particular way — for example, people who are deaf or hard of hearing may prefer emails or text messages to phone calls
  • any communication support —​ like a lip reader or sign language interpreter
  • to use any assistive technologies, like a screen reader or speech recognition software —​ if they do, it’s usually easier to visit them at home or work
  • printed materials —​ like the consent form —​ in a particular format, such as large print or Braille
  • any help getting to or from the research venue
  • to meet at a particular location
  • someone else to support them —​ for example a carer, friend or relative

If you’re using a recruitment agency to find participants, let them know what information you need.

How to minimise bias

It’s hard to recruit an unbiased sample of participants. This is because you’re likely to include some people and exclude others depending on:

  • what the activity is
  • when the sessions are scheduled
  • where you’re doing the research

The best way to limit this risk is to use a variety of user research activities and recruitment approaches.

If you’re using an agency, make sure they don’t exclude people with disabilities or limited digital and literacy skills. And check they do not over-recruit people with flexible work patterns.

Giving incentives

You can avoid excluding some groups by making sure participants are not out of pocket because they take part in your research.

Different people may need financial help in different ways so they can participate.

Read about giving incentives