Find user research participants

How to recruit current or potential future users of the service.

Do your research with people who are existing or potential future users of your service. Representative experts aren't substitutes for actual users.

Remember to include all user groups, including those who:

  • are disabled or use assistive technologies
  • have low digital skills
  • have low literacy
  • come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
  • may need help to use your service

Document user groups in your user research plan.


Meeting the Digital Service Standard

You must do user research when designing your service as part of meeting the following criteria:

You may have to explain how you did this in your service assessments.

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

Finding participants

There are different ways to recruit participants:

  • use a research recruitment agency
  • work with a professional body, specialist charity or community group
  • work with specialist sections of other agencies (for example, Multicultural Services in Services Australia)
  • create a panel of potential participants (for regular research with a specific group of people)
  • invite existing users of your service to take part

It's generally best to use a research recruitment agency for recruiting end users. Recruiting participants is a lot of work and agencies tend to be able to do it at a reasonable rate. This can be good value for money.

But you may also need to try different ways of finding specific users. Relevant professional bodies, charities or community groups might be more effective.

Think about and budget for paying incentives to research participants. Research recruitment agencies can handle incentive payments.

Pop-up research

Pop-up research is a specific form of user research. Researchers go into the field and intercept people in context for short interviews, concept tests or usability tests.

Commonly known as ‘guerrilla testing’, we prefer the term ‘pop-up’. Guerrilla indicates that the research is unauthorised by the agency and we’d like to get your organisation on board with research.

Pop-up research works best when you have clear, simple objectives (for example, you want to see if people can find certain guidance or give specific information). There are limitations to doing pop-up research (for example, short sessions, random participants, recording problems) so always combine it with other research methods.

If you want to do pop-up research at a specific venue and approach people directly:

  • go to a place where your target users are likely to be (for example, a library, college, community group or service centre)
  • get permission to use the area
  • try to get a balanced sample of participants

How to write a recruitment brief

A recruitment brief is a set of instructions sent to an agency for recruiting user research participants.

What to put in a recruitment brief

In your brief, you should cover:

  • research dates
  • times and lengths of each session
  • breaks between sessions
  • the number of sessions you wish to do on each date
  • research location
  • the number of participants you want to recruit
  • a description of the people you want to recruit (often referred to by agencies as ‘recruitment criteria’)
  • incentives (you can ask the agency to handle cash incentives)

You should make it clear that you welcome participants with access needs and low digital skills. This is important because recruiters often exclude these groups by default.

Send the agency a written brief, even if they’re happy to take instructions over the phone. This will be a record in case there are problems with the recruitment.

Create or review the participant screener

The recruitment brief usually forms the basis of a recruitment ‘screener’. Depending on the recruitment agency that you are working with they may create the screener for you or may ask you to create the screener. This is used by the agency to interview potential participants. It helps them to ensure you have the correct mix of people for your research.

Screeners can look complex, but they are important to get right. Have a conversation with the agency about who will write the screener. If you have specific criteria, you can supply screener questions.

Always check the screener matches your needs because it’s not unusual for there to be some misinterpretation or misunderstanding of the brief. The recruitment agency may also add standard questions that exclude participants you would like to recruit.

Make your research inclusive

There is a risk that groups of people can be included or excluded, depending on:

  • what the activity is
  • what time of day you schedule the sessions
  • where you do the research
  • the method you use to recruit your users

Limit this risk by using a variety of research activities and recruitment approaches. For example, don't just rely on interviews in Discovery stage. Do some contextual research with users of existing services.

If you’re using an agency make sure they include a range of participants. For example:

  • people with different levels of digital and literacy skill
  • people from different cultural backgrounds
  • people who have different work patterns (part time, full time, casual workers)