Participant safeguarding in user research
Last updated6 Dec 2023
Safeguarding is the protection of a person’s health, wellbeing, and right to live in safety, free from harm, abuse and neglect.
As researchers, we must safeguard research participants by ensuring our research is conducted in a safe, inclusive and protective environment preparing our research carefully and being ready to act on a safeguarding concern.
Why this standard is important
Research must be planned and conducted in a way which protects people from harm and respects their right to autonomy. Failure to do so will result in safeguarding risks for our research participants.
There are 3 main types of safeguarding risks in research that you must consider in your planning and prepare to manage in your research:
- The risk of causing the participant and others harm in research settings. For example: if a participant is asked to discuss a traumatic topic and becomes upset.
- The risk of harm being disclosed or identified in research settings. For example: if a young child reveals that they are left home alone for long periods of time.
- Direct risks posed by health conditions. For example: exposing participants to an increased chance of catching COVID.
How to meet this standard
To ensure you are meeting this standard you must complete the following checklist. If you select yes for all questions, you have met the DfE standard. If you select no to anything or you're unclear, seek the advice of a senior or lead UR.
Read this related guidance
- have an appropriate person to escalate to if there's disclosure of harm in a research session
- give participants an opportunity to ask questions about the research before participation
- record the informed consent from the participant
- check whether participants with access needs need a different format for your consent process
- send every participant an information sheet (using the standard template unless not appropriate) (DfE users only) which:
- shares the aims and objectives of your research with participants
- explains participants have a right to not take part in your research
- informs participants of who to contact if they wish to withdraw their data from the study
- explains to participants how you will use the outputs of the research
- explains to participants the situations where you may have to break confidentiality
If you are researching with vulnerable users, e.g. adults with learning disabilities or children and young people, you must:
- check if you need consent from a parent, guardian or other person. If required, gain informed consent from the appropriate person
- check participants understand the intentions of the project
- check participants know who made the decisions about about their involvement and why
- check the participants volunteer for the project once they understand it
- make sure you will never be alone with any children during research session
Templates and tools to help you meet this standard
Using these templates and tools will help you meet this standard. (Links for DfE employees/contractors only)
Where to get advice
If you need advice on meeting this standard, you should contact:
- The senior user researcher for your team or programme
- The lead user researcher in your portfolio, or the head of user research
- The Ethics Advisory Group #ethicsadvisorygroup, in DfE Slack (opens in a new tab)
Discuss this standard
This user research standard is in beta, and we are actively seeking any feedback and suggestions. You can do this in the #developing-user-research-standards channel in DfE Slack (opens in a new tab), or by using the 'give us feedback' link at the top of this page.