Key Considerations for Inclusive Research
This ongoing research started while I was writing my dissertation during my MA. The latest iteration of this research has been developing a set of open-sourced principles, shared below, or if you prefer a Google Doc. The ideas hopefully help you think about how inclusive your research process is, for everyone.
1. Inclusive research is better research
Researchers and designers seek to understand people’s needs, motivations, worries, intentions and hopes. By considering the diversity of people when carrying out research, we are better equipped to create products, services, spaces and policies which reflect and are understood by a wide range of people.
2. There are many different forms of exclusion in research
Most people have experienced what it feels like to be excluded. In terms of research, it can be helpful to think of inclusion across a range of access needs—access to language, culture, visual, hearing, mobility, proximity, emotion and ideation. Certain access barriers may mean that a participant is completely unable to participate in research if they have not been considered in the design of the methods and tools. Other access barriers, for example, ideation, might mean that a participant can contribute, however not happily nor confidently.
3. Focus on both who and how
Inclusion is first a question of who is being recruited to participate. Ideally, we are involving people with diverse abilities and different ways of interacting or being in the world. After taking steps to include more diverse individuals through recruitment, next, consider how people are participating. Inclusion often becomes less a question of what you ask, and rather a matter of how you ask. We need to become more intentional with choosing research methods which are appropriate and available to a given participant.
4. Bring in support
Often levels of inclusion in research can be improved considerably when you bring in support. A hearing impaired participant may be more comfortable working with a sign language interpreter, which drastically improves how included they feel in a group workshop. Including a support worker in research with vulnerable individuals will likely improve how confident a participant feels during a contextual interview.
5. Check in early and often
A participant, or their caretaker, usually has the best idea as to what they need in order to participate fully, happily and confidently. Check in moments should be built into the process from the beginning—contacting a participant early on to ask how you can best support them—through to the end—asking for feedback about what worked well and what did not. These check in’s often lead to bringing in relevant support, creating more appropriate materials and arranging a suitable space.
6. Create options
Something that works well for one participant might not work for another. By providing options you can allow participants to choose which methods work best for themselves, or nudge them towards different methods. Here, rather than focusing on barriers a participant may face, we can focus on the many abilities available to a participant. Can one participant write in their native language, while another draws stick figures to answer the same question? This requires an extra layer of preparation and a willingness to be flexible.
7. Take a break
Important for boosting creative thinking, re-energising and avoiding cognitive overload, both participants and researchers benefit from taking a break, especially during longer engagements. This becomes especially important with participants who are communicating in a non-native language, engaging with a sensitive and emotional topic, working with interpreters or not used to standing or sitting for extended periods. It is also often the case that any support workers, such as translators or sign language interpreters, will require frequent breaks.
8. Reconsider how we talk about research
Designing inclusion into a process may also require a high-level change in the way we talk about research and engagements, such as interviews and workshops. Avoiding jargon and using plain language to explain what participation involves and, where possible, the implications of the research, encourages a more inclusive, safe atmosphere for a participant. This can include explaining how the space will be set up, the number of people who will be present, and giving examples as to what a participant might be asked to do during the engagement.
9. Practice a willingness to do better
Designing inclusive research is complex. Human beings are diverse and our needs constantly change depending on our circumstances. While designers and researchers can’t possibly solve or prepare for everything, we can dedicate more effort towards ensuring every research participant feels comfortable, safe and supported. We can commit to improving how we do research, to actively include a diversity of people who interact with the products, services, spaces and policies we create.