Participating in a research activity can be an intimidating experience, especially if the researcher is a government employee.
A lot of design work goes into developing accessible content for products. Let’s put that same effort into research, so participants can more easily understand text content such as survey questions.
Government research includes an inherent power imbalance. This makes it even more important to take steps to improve access for participants. For us, this means making information about participant rights in the research process as transparent and as clear as possible.
About a year ago, the design research and content design teams at CDS started collaborating on content. This included our plain language privacy and consent form. This form is provided to people looking to participate in our research. Our original privacy statement and consent for research was 380 words long. The revised version is 235 words, including headings and content hierarchy. Most headings explain what you’re asked to do, as we would with product content. Our goal is to clarify what participants really need to know and read, while highlighting the details some people may prefer to skip. By using plain language we’ve made complicated ideas easier to understand.
Project Outcomes and Impact
We have not tested this new document, but our changes are based on best practice. We expect the new document will: (1) Reduce the cognitive load for research participants. (2) Improve participant understanding of their rights in the research process. (3) Make it easier for researchers to talk to participants about privacy and consent.
While each jurisdiction has different legal requirements for consent documents, the concepts are likely similar and the content design of our new form could be replicated.