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Dos and don’ts: user research and usability testing with children

By Kate Parrott

Project and Client Services Director

Published:

School’s out, let testing commence…. but let’s ensure we keep it safe. We often get requests to recruit minors, defined by the Market Research Society (MRS) as those aged under 16 years of age, to carry out usability testing and/or user research. However, as many of our clients have little experience of recruiting, researching or conducting usability testing with children, there are a lot of questions that we get asked. “Is it allowed?”, “how long can we test with them for?”, “do I need to be DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) checked?”.

By the end of this blog, some of the questions you may have should be answered, and you will have some useful tips to ensure you are acting appropriately when researching or testing with minors.

Informed consent

usability testing with childrenAs with any other research study, the Project Managers that make up part of the PFR team ensure we provide as much information as possible about the research study prior to asking participants to confirm they are happy to participate. This is so participants can confidently give informed consent, and the same process applies to minors.

If the child is too young to speak with you or the recruiter over the phone during screening, it is vital that the parent gains consent from the child, as outlined in the MRS guide to research with children and young people.

You, the researcher, will also need to ensure that you ask permission once again when they arrive at the session, not just from the parent, but from the child as well. Where they are perceived to be old enough to communicate, the child should be given the opportunity to decline to take part, even if a parent/guardian has given consent on their behalf. It is important that both individuals fully understand that they are not obliged to take part. This includes the right to withhold answers to specific questions or certain tasks and elements of the research.

usability testing for childrenRight to anonymity

Again, as with any research study, all participants have the right to anonymity unless the parent and minor have given informed consent for their details to be revealed, or for the research findings to be passed onto a third party.

It should also be made clear how long you intend to keep hold of their data at the start of the research session. It’s a good idea to always provide a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) which outlines all these details and ask the parent to sign it if the child is too young to sign themselves.

usability testing with childrenIncentives

Based on previous recruitment experience, we advise offering a monetary value to the parent/guardian as well as offering a small incentive or gift to the child.

The parent may want to give their incentive to the child anyway, but it shows you are thinking of both individuals.

Planning your user research or usability testing with children

Think about how long the session will be. The attention span of a child is usually shorter than an adult’s, so we recommend a maximum of 30 minutes for the smaller age bracket (up to 8 years old, for example) and 45 minutes for anyone older. Less is more!

In terms of dates, be reasonable about the time of the year when you want to conduct user research or usability testing with children. There is no way a parent will want to take their child outside of school to take part in research, so be mindful and realistic about the timings.

Offer late afternoon (post 4pm) or early evening (although no later than 8pm) slots if the research or testing is happening during term time. Otherwise, try and save the study until schools have broken up for the holidays. Weekends are also possible, if you are prepared to give up your weekend.

This blog has some useful information about what to consider when choosing the location to run your research.

On the day of the research

usability testing with childrenTaking part in research may be a little daunting, especially if a child is of a young age. Where possible, and where it doesn’t affect the nature of your research, we advise that a parent and/or guardian be present in the research session itself. Where it is not possible for the parent to be included in the study, make sure you highlight this to the recruiter so the parent or guardian is aware and comfortable before giving informed consent and they commit themselves to the study.

You may want to ask the child to bring a toy or something that they can talk about when they arrive to break the ice. Building that bond between yourself and the child at the start of the session may help you get better insight if the child feels comfortable from the outset.

Offer refreshments too, but take care to avoid offering any products that are known to cause any allergy problems like nuts. Also, don’t offer sugary snacks if the session is happening in the late afternoon. Whilst the child may become your best friend, the parent may not approve this!

You can find some more tips on running research or usability testing with children on this blog.

usability testing with childrenDBS checks

It is recommended that researchers get a DBS check, especially if the plan is to be alone when doing user research or usability testing with children or young minors.

This is for the researcher’s protection as much as the child’s, and is something that parents often ask about during the research process.

Working with an external recruiter

People for Research adhere to the MRS Code of Conduct and we ensure we are abiding by these guidelines at all times. We expect other external recruiters will follow the same code.

Here is a list of tips to help if you choose to work with an external recruiter before conducting user research or usability testing with children:

1. Be clear in external communication about the nature of the research and reasons for wanting to speak with children from the outset.
2. Relay this information once a potential participant has been selected for further screening.
3. Make it clear to parents/guardians that any information they or the child provide will be held strictly confidential and will only be used for the purpose of the research.
4. Gain consent from the parent/guardian for the research to be viewed, filmed and/or audio recorded. Ideally, make it clear that all parents should be comfortable with this from the outset.
5. Make it clear to each participant what the research will be used for, and where or to whom their data may be passed onto.
6. Make it clear to each participant they can opt out of research at any point.

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If you would like to find out more about our in-house participant recruitment service for user testing or market research get in touch on 0117 921 0008 or info@peopleforresearch.co.uk.

kate parrottAbout the author: Kate Parrott is the Project and Client Services Director at People for Research, and also a high quality user recruitment ninja. She is the go-to person when it comes to complex briefs and an endless source of top tips.

About People for Research: We recruit participants for UX and usability testing and market research. We work with award winning UX agencies across the UK and partner with a number of end clients leading the way with in-house user experience and insight.

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