Consent forms for user research

How to ensure your users are comfortable and feel safe sharing their experiences.

A consent form helps users to understand how the government will use the information they share. It also gives them confidence they will have control over their information.

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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:

The Digital Service Standard guides teams to build services that are simpler, clearer and faster.

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You need to get the participant’s informed consent before you can do user research.

Make sure you have informed consent before you begin the research session. Explain to the participant what the research is about and what it will involve.

You usually ask the user to complete and sign a consent form to confirm their permission and document their preferences for how we can save and share their information, including video and audio recordings.

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Every user research session is different. Think about all the information you may need to capture during the research. Adjust the consent form to reflect this. 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, team and agency
  • why you are conducting the research
  • what you will be recording — this should be the participant’s choice
  • what you will do with the information and recording
  • how long the information will be stored for
  • how the participant can withdraw their consent — include a contact phone number or email address
  • a place for the participant to sign and date

Your participant may decide on arrival that they don’t want to be recorded. You can still conduct the research. Check with the participant if it’s okay to take notes by hand.

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You should start interviews with users by explaining the purpose of the research. Show participants the consent form.

Explain that they have a choice about what they wish to consent to. Get permission before starting any form of recording (audio, visual or written).

Sometimes a participant may say something that they don’t feel comfortable sharing. After the interview, ask them again if they are happy for the conversation to be used as part of the research. Make sure they still consent to you using the information.

The DTA has a blog about how to ensure informed consent in user research.

Leave a copy of the consent form with the participant at the end of the session. This gives them a record of what they have agreed to. It also lets them know how they can withdraw consent if they want to later.

A good way to do this is to take a photograph of the form (such as a photograph) and leave the original with the participant.

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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, otherwise participants may feel a financial obligation to consent to the research.

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Keep personal information secure

There are rules around how the government can use personal information. You need to make sure the information you collect is secure from misuse or unauthorised access.

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). Factor this into your user research plan.

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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.

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