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The sweet spot: when policy empowers design research

Public servants who want to conduct interviews with the people that use your service, this post is for you. Recruiting people for service design research can be difficult in any sector, but government has some additional requirements. Though many are warranted due to the government’s position of authority, others may be due to culture or habit. In this post, we’ll talk about how we recruited Veterans and conducted research.

Additionally, we have a few resources at the bottom of the post for other Government of Canada organizations to use. We also encourage you to engage your ATIP office for guidance; the sooner they’re engaged the more they can help.

We understood “what” the problem for Veterans was - low uptake and awareness of available services. Identifying the problem was step one; step two was building a research plan to understand the problem from a Veteran’s point of view. That left us at step three: finding Veterans to speak with.

What we did

We began by asking people from our personal and professional networks to reach out to Veterans they knew. We asked them to pass along a request for volunteers to participate in our study to individuals that fit our screening criteria - modern-day Veterans. Recruiters were given a privacy statement to pass along to potential participants as well as information on our research objectives. Potential participants were asked to contact the primary researcher to volunteer if they were interested in participating.

In addition to contacting participants relevant to our research goals, this process had three advantages:

  1. Veterans and still serving military members reached out to us on a voluntary basis, reducing pressure to participate that may be associated with the Government of Canada asking them directly.
  2. We let participants know that the friend or colleague who contacted them would not be told if they chose to participate. Doing so reduces a feeling of coercion and social pressure from the individual who contacted them.
  3. We did not collect any personal information from the participants until we knew for certain they understood the purpose and process of the research and their role in participating.

Once potential participants had reached out to us we were able to:

  • confirm their interest by providing more information on the research (see the privacy and consent notice below)
  • screen participants
  • schedule an interview (if the potential participant was still interested)

The researcher sent the privacy and consent notice to the participant two days prior to the interview for their review before the test to ensure informed consent was given. This isn’t the only method that can be used for recruiting people, but given our problem, type of research, and user group, we decided it was the best approach.

If you’ve built a research plan and need to recruit people for an interview, we have provided some resources “for doing” below. If you found this useful and would like more resources or have any feedback, please consider tweeting or direct messaging CDS at @CDS_GC or emailing us at

Resources for reading

The Federal Privacy Act

The Directive on Privacy Practices

Tri-council policy statement on Ethical Conduct for Research involving Humans

Treasury Board Secretariat guidance on distinguishing design (user) research from public opinion research

Resources for doing

Privacy notice for Email for Veterans’ friends or colleagues to pass on to Veterans

Privacy and Consent notice for User Research

Note about our resources:

It’s tough to share things that aren’t perfect. We know there is lots of room for improvement in these notices, like plain language and balancing policy requirements with participant understanding, but we hope that this can start the conversation with your ATIP office. For those using assistive devices, we encourage you to explore the comments for detailed information on the specific sections. They identify which sections of the Directive and Tri-Council Policy statement each line or block of text satisfies.