User Research Meetup – Remote and telephone research.

Remote and telephone research methods are an important part of the User Researcher’s toolkit.  They can be a good value, time saving, efficient and enable research without geographical boundaries.  It may be harder to gain informed consent. (Niamh & Mansoor)  The lack of non-verbal cues can cause both parties to develop an inner narrative to compensate, leading to Research  Bias. (Niamh & Mansoor).

Remote research can be a great way to help you zero in on your target User Groups whilst in Discovery.  It cant replace the ethnographic aspect of User Research, it is often inappropriate when working with Assisted Digital Users. (Emma)

Usability testing can be done very effectively using Remote Testing.  It is perfectly possible to observe the way users behave when using a service.  You can increase your sample size. You can get data to help understand new hypotheses almost immediately. This is a great way of putting final polish on your service with a huge group of participants. (Nick)


  • Go2Meeting and Web-ex are much easier to use for recording and conference calling .  Sometimes the participant may not be able to access it because of their IT security.  Do not forget that both these services charge users if they use dial in option.  You need to make them aware of this cost at the start.  The teleconferencing means that you can work with colleagues to co-listen to the interview which could include the Product Owner or developers. (Dan)
  • In telephone interviews,  live transcription is reasonable, and can save time.  Clarifying questions can be helpful – ask what they want you to write down about what they just said. (Dan)
  • Video interviews may be problematic because society may not be comfortable with that mode at present. (Dan)
  • Compensating for the absence of visual cues by giving encouragement is a fine balance. Too much and you risk interrupting or talking over the participant.
  • It’s always worthwhile to do a dummy run through your interview or test with a colleague so that you can get into your “stride” and iron out any glitches in the tech when the stakes are lower. (Emma)
  • Develop a “piloted script” for Usability testing.  You can waste so much time and resource with a poor script.  The script can then be outsourced to a mass usability testing platform, but this may compromise the quality of the data depending on your context.  Behaviour beats self reporting.(Nick)
  • Spot professional participants.  They can introduce research bias by giving responses that they have learned are helpful in previous research sessions. (Nick)


  • It’s important to ask the person if they consent to the call being recorded and then being the recording and ask the Participant again if they consent to the call being recorded and used at the start of the recording.  The audio recorded consent is as binding as the signed document.(Emma)

Sensitive Issues & Safeguarding:

  • It’s always a good idea to make sure that you are talking to the right person!!!! Imagine the breach of privacy that could take place if the wrong person answers the phone and strings you along to find out about the purpose of the call.  In public services, this could be a significant issue. (Niamh & Mansoor)
  • It’s important to consider how you will handle a situation when someone discloses mental health issues or that they pose a risk to themselves?  You have a duty to pass on information when someone discloses risk to themselves or others.  Never promise total secrecy. (Niamh & Mansoor)
  • It can be important to make sure that you don’t offer help that isn’t wanted.  A great idea is to ask the participant what services and support they can call on if they need help. (Niamh & Mansoor)
  • Business to Business remote research:
  • Recruiting B2B participants may not be easy and Recruitment Agents are not equipped to help.  It may be helpful to put out a call to potential participants and ask them to respond to a survey indicating when they would be willing to help, the kind of contact they would like and what technology they have available. (Me!) B2B Participants are most likely to help for free, because their day job is to be paid to improve their organisation.  (Dan)
  • Send personal thank you letters (Dan) it can encourage repeated engagement.

Further thoughts:

  • Consider if it is it appropriate to feedback your findings to participants, though you must consider external comms and potential risks to jigsaw identification of participants.  If you are able to do it internally, the colleagues you are trying to help are likely to feel more empowered.
  • Don’t create a false dichotomy – you can run Remote testing in parallel with Face2Face to get a round picture of the behaviours you are trying to understand.




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