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Finding volunteers for user research: how our user panel helps

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Megan Lynn HMRC digital user researcherHi I’m Megan Lynn, a user researcher in HMRC’s Digital Service. To make sure we’re building services around our customers’ needs we test them at every stage of design with volunteers. Since July, I’ve been working on a project to create and launch a new user panel that will help us build and manage our database of research volunteers.

User research volunteers

All the digital services we produce at HMRC are built around our customer needs. To find out what their needs are, we like to speak with them. It sounds simple, but it’s not always easy to find the right people, willing to take part in our user research.

Up to now we’ve used external recruitment companies to help us find volunteers. This approach is fine but it can take time, adds complexity, costs money and means this part of the process is outside of our control. So we set about creating a tool that would not only help us find volunteers but help match the right people to the right research panel. We will still use external recruitment companies to help find people with specific demographics, however this new tool now means we have another way to find volunteers.

So what is a user panel exactly?

It’s a customer relationship tool that manages a database of people who volunteer to take part in research with us. When people sign up, they provide details about themselves such as what HMRC services they already use, how they use computers, tablets and smartphones and where they live. Having this sort of information means we can invite them to research sessions that are appropriate to them.

How do we invite people to sign up?

We’ve put SignUp links in various places on GOV.UK pages: links in banners, on guidance pages, and within our own HMRC services pages. By choosing exactly where on GOV.UK to put a SignUp link, we can target particular groups of people.

User research signup on
Sign up link on

We’ve also put SignUp links on the help emails we send to people who may be not be totally comfortable with using our services - targeting the exact people we would love to speak to!

People can join our panel by clicking the SignUp link and entering their name, email and other general information details. Once they’ve confirmed their email address, their details are securely stored in the database.

Some of the benefits of the user panel

Apart from helping recruit new customers to test our services and save money on using external recruitment companies, we’ve built some really useful features into the panel. For example, we’ve added tracking codes. These let us to see where on GOV.UK each person was when they signed up, which means we can pinpoint the service they were using. This allows us to contact users of a specific service to help us test that service.

Using the tool we can also send out surveys to the panellists to find out more specific details about them - things we may not have known just from their original contact with us. This means we can find and invite people to further research sessions that are appropriate to them and their circumstances. And all of the communications we have with the panellists can be saved and tracked securely within the tool.

Do you want to volunteer to become a user panellist?

As you can see, our user volunteers are very important to us, which is why we’ve invested in this tool. We’d love to hear from you if you would like to help us with our user research on future services. You’ll find more information about what’s involved and details on how to sign up on our take part in research page.

The more people we can get to help us with our research the better our services will be. We look forward to hearing from you.

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