Prioritizing Digital Inclusion: How to Recruit Participants with Low Tech Skills for UX Research

Posted by AnswerLab Research on Jun 14, 2021

After a year of distance learning, remote work, and a major shift to online interactions, the digital divide has become an amplified issue and conversation through the lens of the pandemic. America has a massive broadband issue, with millions of Americans unable to access broadband speeds. The connected world is not as connected as we think. Those who lack this access to the internet or advanced technology skills often struggle to keep up.

We believe creating inclusive experiences also means fostering digital inclusion, understanding how low-tech-skill users navigate your products, and building solutions to help more people access and benefit from the internet.

The Value of Inclusive Thinking 

As UX professionals, we’re constantly exposed to technology, and we forget there are whole populations of people left out of the UX conversation. Social privilege, access to education and resources, wealth, and social connections all contribute to how we build high-tech skills. When we continue to leave out those who are not exposed to or don’t have access to technology, we systematically exclude them and widen the gap even further. UX research with these populations is a critical step forward, but reaching participants can be a challenge.

Getting Started: Rethink Your Assumptions

There's a lot we don't know about the day-to-day context of lower-tech skilled participants. Even armed with the knowledge that we’re recruiting this group, we often don’t realize that many will have virtually no access to the devices, WiFi, or skills required to conduct a session. Rethink your assumptions about who qualifies as a low-tech user and why they fall into that category. 

For example, while older adults are more likely to have lower tech skills due to a lack of long-term experience with today’s technology, there are young people across the country who are lower-tech skilled because they lack access to and/or interest in technology. We interviewed a teenager in a low-tech study who only had intermittent access to the internet through an early generation iPhone. While she used the internet and various social media apps, insufficient bandwidth limited her agility in navigating the web. She used things very slowly, was unaware of online safety risks, and had misconceptions about what you could do on certain apps and sites.

Research Operations for Low Tech Studies

At AnswerLab, we’ve helped our clients conduct a range of studies with low tech users, including:

  • Speaking with library users in rural areas who frequently check out WiFi devices for at-home use
  • Understanding how low tech users complete tasks on an online platform and ways to improve the usability
  • Uncovering how rural teens and families consume content online
  • Benchmarking the differences in ease of use and experience between low and high tech users for a consumer product

This research requires an intentional and hands-on approach to recruiting as most research panels are made up of tech-savvy participants, primarily focused in metropolitan areas. To reach low-tech users and rural populations, you may need to think outside the box. Today, our Research Operations team is sharing some strategies and tips for approaching your next study.

Recruitment Strategies for Low-Tech Users

  • Adjust your screener practices

    Recruiting low tech skilled participants requires a more holistic approach than a typical study. We recommend building in extra layers into your screener, offering different levels of criteria to help identify truly lower-tech skilled participants. Vet these responses carefully and don’t discount someone based on one answer. We’ve also used the approach of not screening out or disqualifying any potential participant based on a singular screener question but instead taking all of the responses and reviewing them holistically to determine who best meets the study’s goals. The most important thing is to think carefully about how you’re vetting these participants and be open to taking a different approach from your typical practice.
  • Try snowball recruiting

    Snowball recruiting relies on referrals from existing participants in your database. Once you’ve spoken with some lower-tech participants, ask for referrals to their friends and family! Often, we find these participants have contacts and connections that meet our requirements. And, hearing a recommendation from a friend can make them more motivated and open to participating in a session.

  • In-person flyering

    Instead of trying to reach these participants online or using social media, try in-person flyering. Consider what locations would be best based on your study’s goals and objectives. We usually consider a local community center, the library, the mall, nearby coffee shops and stores, or even outside local public events. If you’re conducting research remotely and don’t have someone local, consider hiring a Taskrabbit to deliver flyers to local businesses.

    Remember, make it as easy as possible for participants to get in touch with you. If you’re using a paper flyer but need participants to fill out an online survey to determine eligibility, use a link shortener to make it as easy as possible for people to type the link into their phones or computers.

  • Work with a local partner

    Need help from someone on the ground? Partner with a local nonprofit, community center, or library to better understand the audience you’re trying to reach. They might have people in mind they can contact directly. And if not, they can help you refine your approach and make recommendations for how best to reach their community. Participants may be hesitant to take part in research if they’ve never done so before. If the invitation to participate comes from a trusted community organization, they’ll be more likely to volunteer.

Making Research Sessions Accessible

Now that you’ve recruited your participants and are ready to start your research, ask yourself how you can make sessions accessible and create a good experience for your participants. Here are a few tips:

  • Reduce the requirements to join

    Instead of offering only one way for participants to partake in research, make it possible for them to join sessions on Zoom, on their mobile device, or just by phone. If you’re trying to talk with participants who lack access to broadband or WiFi at home, see if you can partner with a local library or community center to offer a computer and space to participate at their facility.

  • Try buddy recruiting

    In this method, we recruit a lower-tech participant, along with a family member or friend who is more tech-savvy, to help them get onto the videoconferencing platform for the session. Having a buddy to help them get situated and prepared for the study can make a big difference in session quality and staying on schedule.
  • Conduct remote “walk-ins”

    If you’re conducting your research remotely, your participants may have some difficulty getting logged into the session. To make sure we’re using session time efficiently, we call participants just prior to the session to walk them through joining a potentially brand new video conferencing tool for the first time. This is similar to the in-person experience of checking in with our research host in our office lobby. It minimizes tech hurdles with audio or video and ensures participants feel mentally and physically prepared to join.

  • Intercept participants at a local public place

    Looking for quick feedback? Try setting up a station at a local mall or frequented spot and doing in-person intercepts for quick research conversations. Face-to-face interaction can make a big difference when trying to access and recruit this audience. 

  • Ship participants a mobile hotspot

    If you need to conduct research remotely, but participants don’t have easy access to WiFi or don’t have the necessary bandwidth, mail participants a mobile hotspot to use for the session.

Regardless of the approach you take, be prepared for this to take some time! Recruiting low-tech audiences requires patience and flexibility. You may try one recruiting strategy and find you need to supplement it with another or change course altogether. As a team, be prepared to get creative and adapt on the fly as you navigate your recruit. 

Interested in learning more about research operations and low-tech audiences? Learn more about our guiding principles of recruiting or reach out to us for help with your low-tech study needs.

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AnswerLab Research

The AnswerLab research team collaborates on articles to bring you the latest UX trends and best practices.

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