This guidance will help you understand what inclusivity means, why it is important when we design digital services in DfE, and tips for how to make sure your research is inclusive.

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Inclusivity in the context of digital services

When we develop digital services, our main goal is to ensure everyone who will need to use it can do so easily and without restrictions. Our services must be user friendly and accessible to everyone regardless of their personal characteristics and background. For this reason, we must be inclusive of anyone who may become users of our service and include them at every stage of the decision-making, development, and testing process. This will allow us to understand their specific needs, and develop a service that is accessible to everyone who needs it.

Warning If you don't research inclusively then you are not meeting the service standard, and you are not ensuring that your service meets equality law.

The Equality Act of 2010 focuses on nine protected characteristics to consider as a starting point to ensure we test our services with a diverse cohort of participants/future users. These characteristics are:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • Race - this includes colour, ethnicity, nationality and national origins
  • religion and belief - this includes the lack of religion or belief (atheism)
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

However these characteristics alone are not sufficient. There are many other characteristics and backgrounds we must consider, who may not be as easily reachable for many reasons. It is particularly important to think about users who may have difficulty accessing our services or can be underrepresented in DfE policy and services, including those who:

  • Have limited or no access to the internet, digital technologies, or platforms
  • Lack the skills and/or confidence to use digital technologies or platforms
  • Come from poorer backgrounds
  • Have different cultural values or beliefs
  • Speak English as an additional language
  • Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children


To ensure research is inclusive, it is important to also consider how different characteristics can intersect to produce variations in the user experience, rather than considering each characteristic in isolation. By including a range of characteristics, including race, sex, age, and disability, we can improve the breadth and depth of our research and ensure inclusivity within our research practice. What is intersectionality? - YouTube

Collecting special category data

To make sure your research is inclusive, you may need to collect 'special category data', which refers to personal data about a person and includes race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. Make sure you are clear about which data you intend to collect when planning your personal data management - this should be included in your High Risk screening document.

Tips for inclusive research

Planning your research

Consult others when planning your research to ensure you're being inclusive e.g. using the correct language / terminology. It's important to collaborate with others when doing research with a group who has faced discrimination / prejudice to ensure we aren't unintentionally causing harm or offence. Internal research experts (try the user research community Slack channel (DfE Slack)) can help with this as well as staff networks (DfE intranet). You can also speak with relevant external groups such as charities and support groups.

Think about the phrasing of your questions particularly for those which may cause anxiety or offence - build up to them slowly and frame them in a way that they're not a surprise to the participant

Use simple language - do not use jargon, acronyms or complex language. Some people may need more time to understand things and need different research materials, presented in different ways. It may be helpful to send any materials to participants in advance particularly if they have additional needs related to thinking and understanding.

Plan for digital exclusion - some people might not have the same technology as you or might be offline. Others may not be confident with technology and might need a pre-call to help them to understand how to use things on the day e.g. Microsoft Teams

Read the Department for Education diversity and inclusion strategy and training content (DfE intranet) to help you understand how to think about diversity in your research and how not to stigmatise ethnic minority people.

Be specific with who you're speaking to and why - people have different needs and experiences. Broad terms like BAME are unhelpful and ignore the different needs and experiences each person has.

Learn from how others have planned their research by keeping up to date with new research/ blogs. Check the sources in the list of insight available to DfE user researchers, and check the blogs of other departments and organisations like NHS England and Department for Health and Social Care and others who publish blogs and findings.

Recruiting participants

Building relationships and partnering with other organisations, such as Teaching Unions, or the voluntary sector can improve recruitment of difficult to access groups, excluded groups or people with specialist roles. If you work with one, try asking your policy team if they have any contacts who can help you.

Build trust by going to where your users are. Some excluded citizens are going through financial hardship and find support through charities and community centres. These are organisations of trust and can be a gateway to find the citizens you need for research.

Be aware of current socio-political, economic, and cultural context and how this may impact some user groups more than others.

Ask participants if they have been in DfE research before. Research fatigue is harmful and damages the reputation of the department.

Take the time to build relationships with your users; ask them if there are any adjustments they need to take part in your research and try to offer alternative ways to participate

Be prepared to be questioned on why we're looking to speak to people who are part of minority groups - highlight that DfE services need to be inclusive for all and that's why it's important that your research is too

Know that people are busy - some people have caring responsibilities and full-time jobs. People who work within the education sector or other related professions can be time pressured and have restrictions upon when they will be available for taking part in research, often being unable to conduct research during certain hours of the day and during school holidays. Be flexible with your time to encourage participation - the easier you make it for people to take in research, the higher your participation rate will be and better your rapport will be with your participant in the research session. This will generate richer, higher quality insights. Try to leave your schedule as open as possible and offer a varied range of timeslots if you're researching with people who have 9-5 jobs, caring responsibilities or high workloads. We need to value users' time who speak to us and so we need to prioritise their availability in order to encourage participation from as wide a range of users as possible.

Doing the research

Consider enabling participation from a range of users by adapting and being flexible with methods - for instance, considering how remote sessions can support reaching geographically hard to reach users, but may have to provide an alternative option for digitally excluded individuals.

Be considerate and patient throughout the session - there may be noise, people may have caring responsibilities, and English may not be their first language.

After the research

Close the feedback loop - where you can, get back to people to let them know their contribution has made a difference and been taken into consideration when decisions are made. It's important that participants feel involved in the decisions that impact them.


When digital services are developed they must be accessible to all users. To achieve this, we must be inclusive of everyone who will become users of our service. We need to include them at every stage of the decision-making, development, and testing process.

Protected characteristics are a starting point to ensure we test our services with a diverse cohort of participants/future users however other factors, such as low digital literacy and being of a different culture, must also be considered.

To make sure your research is inclusive, you may need to collect special category data which refers to personal data about a person and includes race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. In this case, a Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) screening form should be completed to make sure you are meeting your legal obligations under GDPR.

Further reading