Reaching the hard to reach: our experience of recruiting digitally excluded testers

Posted by Sophie Knight on Aug 6, 2021 10:00:00 AM
Sophie Knight

One of our clients recently came to us with a recruitment brief for a diverse and inclusive research project. This included testing with disabled users and individuals who consider themselves digitally excluded. Broadly defined, the digitally excluded are those in society who have unequal access to or lack the skills needed to use digital devices.  

This was my first recruitment project at Web Usability, and while I was keen to get stuck in, I was also aware that finding some of these ‘hard to reach’ individuals would have its challenges. 

I say hard to reach because typically website testers tend to be recruited via digital platforms. We, for example, have a database with thousands of potential testers but you need to be able to complete an online form to join in. Other common channels of recruitment include social media or searching online forums.

So my first big question was: how do we reach those who are excluded from the very mediums we use? 

How we assessed digital skill  

I also had to consider how, once we reach these people, we could assess their digital skills. I came across a blog on the Government website where they recruited less digitally confident users to test the application process for carers allowance. 

From this blog, I adapted a rating scale that would allow potential participants to rate digital skill level:

Rating scale asking how easily you could undertaken certain digital tasks, like sending an email or using a search engine

Once we felt we had a clear method for assessing digital skill level, and this was agreed with our client, it was time to find our digitally excluded testers.  

How we recruited digitally excluded testers 

Obviously, it would be counterproductive to try to reach an excluded group through the very channels they are excluded from. So we reached out to charities and support groups around the UK that specialise in digital inclusion. 

For a bit of context – the digital divide in the UK is a pervading issue with roughly 11.9 million people or 22% of the UK population still lacking the digital skills essential for daily life. These individuals can be digitally excluded for numerous reasons. Good Things Foundation, a charity with the goal of bridging the digital divide, identify it is often “those already at a disadvantage – through age, education, income, disability, or unemployment – who are most likely to be missing out, further widening the social inequality gap”. 

With this in mind, I contacted various charities to see if they could help. Good Things Foundation have a useful tool on their website which allows you to search for local support groups and to ensure we had a good  geographic spread, I went out to organisations across the UK. 

The challenges 

This is where I encountered some challenges, primarily the lack of response. With most charities already overstretched and under resourced, it came as no surprise that my emails were overlooked. So it was time to get on the phone.

Once contact was made, a couple of groups offered to put our details on a community board, allowing interested individuals to reach out to us. 

Luckily after a week or so I had a flood of emails come in from different local divisions of one especially helpful charity who had spread the word throughout their organisation. They were able to pass on the contact details of some of their digitally excluded clients, with their explicit consent of course. It was then a case of filling out the screening form with them over the phone. and establishing how they would be most comfortable participating in the research, either via a phone call or in-person. 

Every individual I spoke to was grateful to have been considered for the research project. As a group that are already significantly disadvantaged in the digital world and omitting their voices from our research only exacerbates the problem. After all, they are still key users of a service who have valid needs that should be considered.

As a digital native, using the internet every day for my work and social life is something I have taken for granted, but will not in the future. This is why testing with a range of users is so important for an inclusive study, the ‘norm’ should not be assumed! 

Read more:
Digital exclusion and online accessibility
So you think you know what is 'normal'

Topics: Accessibility, User Insights

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