Home-Based Research Visits: Participant Comfort Comes First

Home-Based research offers unique and valuable insights. Meeting at home provides a chance to connect with participants intimately, in a way that builds empathy with the user and gleans qualitative data on their lifestyle . However, home visits may present some difficulties for researchers accustomed to remote and on-site studies. There is less control over the environment, you dont know what to expect, and each visit is different. For obvious reasons, home visits can be quite ‘in your face’ and if done improperly, can also be uncomfortable for the participant. To that end, we have put together some simple strategies we use to make home research visits smooth and productive for everyone involved.

Respect the participants time and schedule:

For you, home visits will be a scheduled part of your work day, but for most participants it will be an aberration and not something that fits easily into their routine. For example, if your research involves children, keep in mind that they go to school during the week and often have extra-curricular activities. This might seem obvious, but we have run into several situations where researchers travel to New York to do home visits involving children and are initially unwilling to schedule any visits on evenings or weekends (until they realize this will never work and then have to reorganize everything). Make sure to cover scheduling well ahead of time and be willing to accommodate your participants. Of course, always anticipate some cancellations and have a few extra sessions lined up.

Prepare logistics ahead of time:

Use a checklist to make sure you have everything you’ll need with you. Be prepared to brief participants about everyone’s roles and what will be taking place, and don’t forget to ask if they have any questions for you. If you are going to be filming or taking pictures, practice setting up the camera ahead of time so that you know exactly what you’re doing on the actual day. It’s really important to make sure you are comfortable using everything you plan on bringing along. Don’t wait until you are standing in someone’s living room to figure out how to work your camera and voice recorder. The respondent will respect you and take the study more seriously if you appear prepared and professional.

Remember you are a guest in someone’s home:

The participant is doing you a favor, not the other way around. Employ the same good manners you would if you were going to a new friend’s home for dinner. Simple gestures like offering to remove your shoes at the door and greeting everyone present, not just the person you are there to see, will pave the way for establishing better rapport. Tell the participant that if they are uncomfortable for any reason you can end the study. If there are children present, go out of your way to acknowledge them in a friendly way. The point of this visit is to research how your participant uses the product in their everyday life, so think of any issues that may arise with kids, pets, or anything else, as a part of that.

Whoever you are visiting, embrace the fact that this is a unique situation. Understanding that there is something new to learn from every person you interact with will keep your observations fresh and the work interesting. Social dynamics in people’s homes cannot be replicated in a research facility, so use this to your advantage by getting the most out of it. Participants are more honest and engaged when the researcher is attentive and upbeat. And of course, for safety, opt to work as a team and always make sure someone knows where you are at all times.

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