Many research agencies and practitioners are heavily reliant on remote forms of user testing whilst the UK is in lockdown.
There are advantages and disadvantages of remote techniques. The primary disadvantage is the inability to share physical field materials or capture data in a convenient way. Then there is the less tangible disadvantage of being unable to pick up on the subtle indicators of the participant’s unspoken mood and body language.
So, when we could feasibly recommence face to face interviewing, and where does the responsibility sit for ensuring that participants and researchers remain safe?
The government’s plan
On Sunday 10 May the UK government set out a 5-point plan for the Covid-19 UK recovery strategy. It is a three phased plan, with steps. It is clear that we are entering phase 2, phase 3 being some way off when we have effective treatment(s) / a vaccine in place.
The Government will revise the conditions of each step over the coming weeks and months using tests.
Of all the tests, the R-number seems to be the most crucial. The government’s plan focusses heavily on the R (reproduction) number staying below 1. Any rise in this number that is detected in a region may mean lockdown measures are tightened.
As the national monitoring systems become more precise and larger-scale, enabling a quicker assessment of the changes in R-number, response times to changes may reduce. This means we may see regions move in and out of lockdown at short notice.
When can face to face qualitative research recommence?
At present the Government says the number of social contacts people make each day must continue to be limited.
As we enter step 1, the Government states: For the foreseeable future, workers should continue to work from home rather than their normal physical workplace, wherever possible. This indicates researchers should avoid face to face research if possible.
The ambition at step 2 is to open at least some of the remaining businesses and premises that have been required to close.
The ambition at step 3 is to open workplaces such as personal care, hospitality, public places and leisure facilities. In fact, the Government wishes to open as many businesses and public places as the data and information at the time allows.
With this in mind, it seems reasonable that research viewing studios could be opened, ensuring they have required controls in place.
Step 3 is currently set to begin no earlier than July 4th, 2020, but the date is dependent on the various tests the Government has in place.
What safety measures should be in place?
The social distancing rules are currently 2 metres, which could feasibly be implemented for user testing.
Face masks may need to be worn
Field materials (e.g. devices) should be isolated to one person and disinfected after each use
Handwash should be readily available
Researchers should also consider who can attend research. Some people are particularly vulnerable and should be screened out in recruitment.
As the Government increases the availability and speed of result delivery of swab testing, the ability to confirm presence of the virus will be a practical measure to implement.
This could be a condition that is applied in recruitment, ensuring participants understand they must not attend if they have tested positive. Tests on entry to the venue such as a fever screening camera may be desirable or even a requirement.
Transparent efforts on the part of researchers may encourage participation, reassuring participants that their safety and well-being are taken seriously.
It seems feasible that at step 3, individual interviews may recommence in viewing studios that have adequate safety measures in place. This could be in July 2020 at current government projections.
There is a high level of risk that viewing studios should consider when hosting research participants, meaning the onus is on them to put in place the required safety measures.
There is also a high level of uncertainty that the research team should bear in mind including lockdown recommencing within short notice, participants, staff or the researcher developing symptoms.
Ultimately, it depends on the willingness of participants, staff and researchers to take part.