Consent forms for user research
How to ensure your users are comfortable and feel safe sharing their experiences.
To build a service that meets user needs you and your team will need to do research with users.
A consent form helps users to understand how the information they share will be used by the government. It also gives them confidence that they will have control over how their information is used.
Meeting the Digital Service Standard
You need to make sure you have informed consent from your users to do user research. You must do user research to meet the following criteria:
- Criteria 1: Understand user needs
- Criteria 3: Agile and user-centred process
- Criteria 9: Make it accessible
- Criteria 10: Test the service
- Criteria 12: Don’t forget the non-digital experience
- Criteria 13: Encourage everyone to use the digital service
The Digital Service Standard guides teams to build services that are simpler, clearer and faster.
Get consent before you research
Before you can do user research you need to get the consent of the user.
The process of getting consent usually starts with a conversation before you begin the research session. You explain to the person you’re researching with what the research is about and what it will involve.
You usually ask the user complete a form to confirm their permission and document their preferences for how we can save and share their information, including video and audio.
Crafting a consent form
Every user research session is different. You need to think about all of the kinds of information you may need to capture during the research and adjust the consent form to include them. For example, the participant may be sharing artefacts that contain their address and details of disability.
The most important information you need in a consent form is:
- who is conducting the research — the researcher, the team and also the agency
- why you are doing the research
- what things you will be recording
- what you will do with the information and recording
- how the user can withdraw their consent (for example, a phone number or email address)
- a place for the participant to sign and date
Using a consent form in an interview
You should start interviews with users by explaining the purpose of the research and showing them the consent form.
You should explain to the participant that they have a choice about what they wish to consent to, and get permission before starting any form of recording (audio, visual and written).
After the interview you should make sure the user is still comfortable with letting you use the information. Sometimes a user may say something during the interview that they don’t feel comfortable sharing.
The DTA has a blog about how to ensure informed consent in user research.
You should leave a copy of the consent form with the participant at the end of the session so they have a record of what they have agreed to and know how they can withdraw consent if they want to later.
A good way to do this is to take a digital copy of the form and leave the original with the participant.
Handle receipts for incentives and consent forms separately
Consent forms and incentive receipts are separate parts of the research process.
Make sure you treat consent as a separate discussion from giving the incentive payment and the receipt.
Keep personal information safe
You need to make sure the information you collect from users is kept safe. There are rules around how the government can use personal information.
Some users may need their information to be treated differently (for example, if the user has a disability or if they have children present during a recording). The user researcher will need to factor these into how they plan user research.
Help people to share their story widely
It’s important to allow people to protect their privacy. It's also important to help people to share their stories more widely. Many people are very keen for their experiences with governments to be shared with anyone who can help improve them.
Informed consent should be focused on the participant’s choice to participate and share their experience, not ‘locking down’ or anonymising the research data.