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Protect Privacy and Get Informed Consent During Research

By Makaela Stephens and Kelli Ho

Protect participants’ privacy and ensure they understand their rights

Before a research session begins, the participant must understand the purpose of the research, how their information will be used, and their rights during and after the session. Using plain language helps participants make informed decisions about what they’re consenting to.

These privacy practices are:

A set of plain language templates and checklists to use while conducting user research to ensure you get informed consent from participants and protect their privacy.

They might be helpful if you need to:

  • Create a safe space for research participants to share their stories and information.

  • Clearly inform participants of the purpose of your research, how their information will be used, and their rights during and after the session.

  • Ensure research participants’ rights and information are protected throughout a project.

Before your research session

Prepare for your session by getting informed consent from your participants and establishing practices to protect their personally identifiable information (PII).

Below you’ll find plain language templates—for an email requesting consent, a consent form, and a spreadsheet for protecting PII—as well as checklists for using these templates.

✅ Checklist: Prepare for your sessions

   ▢ Share the templates below with your team so they can review and approve their use.

   ▢ Fill out highlighted sections of each template.

   ▢ Email the consent form to each participant.

   ▢ Save completed forms in a secure folder (on Google Drive or elsewhere) that only the research team can access.

   ▢ Cancel any sessions where the participant doesn’t consent to be interviewed.

📄 Template: Email to participants

After you’ve scheduled a research session, email your participant a consent form. You can copy and paste the email message template in this Google Doc.

📄 Template: Consent form

Include the consent form in your email. The consent form template is in two formats so you can:

Attach the consent form to the email: copy and paste, save to Google Drive, or download this Google Doc.

OR

Link to the consent form: make a copy of this Google Form.

(We recommend linking to the Google Form but it requires that you have a Google Account.)

✅ Checklist: Protect PII

   ▢ Use the template below and create a secure spreadsheet.

   ▢ Give every participant a pseudonym (e.g. 0987).

   ▢ Save the list in a secure Google Drive folder only the research team can access.

📄 Template: Spreadsheet for PII

This spreadsheet includes PII like full name, contact information, employer, and/or links to social media. For this reason, only researchers should be able to access it. When referencing participants, use a pseudonym, not their real name. If working in or with a government agency, make sure you use a government-approved tool, like Google Sheets, to store this information.

Copy and paste, save to Google Drive, or download a spreadsheet for organizing research participants in this Google Sheet.

During your research session

Remember not to use personally identifiable information whenever possible. Secure your raw notes to minimize exposure of PII.

✅ Checklist: Ensure you have consent and protect PII

   ▢ Use the script to review the consent form at the beginning of the session. If the participant does not agree, do not continue the session.

   ▢ Use participant’s pseudonym (e.g. 0987).

   ▢ Do not include PII—like race, age, birth date, etc.—in your notes unless absolutely necessary to the story the participant is telling.

   ▢ Remove any PII before you share notes with your wider team.

📄 Template: Pre-interview script

Use this script to review the consent form with your participant before beginning the interview. If the participant does not consent to participate in the interview, the session cannot take place.

Copy and paste, save to Google Drive, or download the script in this Google Doc.

📄 Template: Note-taking

Keep track of top insights, open questions, and next steps.

Copy and paste, save to Google Drive, or download a note-taking template in this Google Doc.

After your research session

Researchers are responsible for protecting all of the information shared by participants. Always remove PII and anonymize the participant before sharing notes, quotes, and findings with your team. And, restrict access to participants’ PII and sensitive information to abide by the participant’s right to privacy.

Get in touch

If you use this resource in your research, we’d love to hear from you. Reach out if you have questions or feedback on how these resources can better support teams in government. Email us at design@navapbc.com.

Work with Nava

Nava is a public benefit corporation working with government agencies to improve their digital services. We’d love to chat about how we can work together to make government services simple, effective, and accessible to all. Get in touch.

We’re honored to have these templates featured in Shorenstein Center’s Privacy Design Forecast, a design challenge to inspire more user-centric privacy by design concepts.