Improving how we manage user research data

Managing user research data and participant details correctly is a challenge that many user researchers face. This ranges from organising your research data clearly, to briefing colleagues on their responsibilities for protecting participant privacy during research. 

When you’re busy working across different teams or pieces of research, there is a risk that these tasks slip to the bottom of your to-do list. But they’re essential in ensuring that participants have confidence in their privacy rights being respected and so that we follow the law.

Why we wanted to improve our process

One of our new user research values involves embedding research operations within our team so that we can do our best work. Richard mentions how we created our values in his recent blog post.

Hackney’s Digital Design Team is a mixture of researchers, designers and apprentices. We all carry out user research as part of our roles and we’ve completed research on a wide variety of council services now. 

Over time we’ve developed different ways of managing research data within the team. As a result we found that participant details were sometimes being stored in people’s personal drives, emails and in product team drives. It was also becoming difficult to remember to delete all participant data as soon as it was no longer needed. 

Making sure we store research data securely

When we talked to other user researchers in local government we discovered that other teams experienced similar problems. There is helpful guidance from the Government Digital Service (GDS) on managing user research data and participant privacy but we needed to formalise our process for storing research data securely. 

We approached GDS to find out how they do this and then worked with information management colleagues to create our guidance on how we store user research data.

The guide includes how we:

  • store research outputs, such as consent forms and research reports
  • organise participant details 
  • delete data when it is no longer needed 

We now store participant data in a shared drive which only researchers have access to. As well as minimising the number of people who have access to the data, this allows us to easily manage participant details as per our consent form. It also reduces the likelihood of adding any raw data to the user research library

We’ve all started following the new process now. It’s a work in progress but feedback from team members shows we’re heading in the right direction:

 “Thanks to the guide, I was reminded that data can end up in unexpected and forgotten places such as email. That data has now been deleted and I’m confident that our raw participants data is now being stored in a secure place that we’ll be regularly monitoring.”

How we are avoiding research debt

As part of our new process, we recently held our team’s first data hygiene day. We had the idea for this after reading Caroline Jarrett’s blog post on how to avoid research debt

Everyone reviewed, organised and deleted research data from shared drives, Google forms, third party tools, emails and elsewhere. We are going to do this every six months to help ensure we keep on top of organising research and looking after participant data correctly. 

Next steps 

We’ve published this guide alongside other guidance we follow when conducting research with Hackney residents and council staff

We now need to improve our user research operations in related areas, including reviewing how we get informed consent from participants. 

We also want to consider how we can best support colleagues to manage user research data correctly. This is because projects do not always have a Digital Design Team member to lead on user research or they might hire a contractor to do this.

User Researcher | + posts

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