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Improving how we conduct user research with under 18s

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Our recent RAF Air Cadets website discovery piece of work involved speaking to under 18 cadets who use the site. In this blog I want to reflect on my experience of working with this group.

Conducting research with under 18s is typically viewed as more challenging than working with adults. For example, gaining consent for participants involves extra steps when working with children. As a result, I worked on clarifying and putting into writing our recruitment and consent process for working with under 18 users as a continuous improvement topic. 

I spoke to other Lagomers, collaboratively putting together an agreed approach. We have conducted some user research with under 18s in the past, but we were ready to define our process surrounding this – especially with the RAF Air Cadets site discovery being a project with lots of under 18s. These users were at least 12 years old, correlating with the age requirement for joining the air cadets.

We decided that it was important that two consent forms be developed – one for the under 18 participants themselves and one for their parent/guardian. We agreed that the best process for obtaining consent and recruiting these younger participants is to first reach out to them via email to invite them to take part in the research, and then ask for the contact details of their parent/guardian. 

This approach means that both the child and the adult are contacted, ensuring that both have a ‘direct line’ as it were to the user researcher and thus the opportunity to ask any questions they may have.

Openness among under 18 users

An aspect of the RAF Air Cadets work with under 18s which I was particularly concerned about was how much the cadets themselves would actually open up to me during the interviews. I reflected that if a researcher were to have asked my teenage-self a set of questions they probably wouldn’t have got much more than ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘I don’t know’ out of me!

However I needn’t have worried. The cadets I spoke to were some of the most engaged users I’ve come across, speaking at length about their experience of being an air cadet and pain points surrounding the current website.

The fact that we do not record the video of interviews with under 18s, only the audio, may have helped to encourage a more free-flowing conversation. It’s also likely that this particular group of users were extremely well engaged with the topic being discussed, and therefore keen to talk about this.

My first experience of conducting user research with under 18s has definitely been a positive one. It’s safe to say that I will not be so intimidated by the complexities of working with this group in the future!


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