User Research in Indonesia: To Recruit or Not to Recruit

Summary: A recent conversation highlighted Indonesia’s maturity level in User Research. There are many individuals and companies in Indonesia who consider themselves able to conduct User Research, but what they do is fundamentally flawed.

Someone posted on a social media how he struggled with low User Research participant show-up rate in Indonesia. Another poster then suggested to this young chap to use a Recruiter’s service, citing several reasons how her company has benefited from this practice.

I was flabbergasted to read the logic of the recommendation. I am not against any recruiter, however what concerns me is her fundamentally-flawed advice may reflect how immature the level of User Research conducted in Indonesia. Her contradictory logic highlights a beginner’s mistakes in conducting User Research. The followings are a good lesson for us to learn in User Research.

“jadi kalau jadwalnya tied, aku biasanya pakai recruiter” — ”if the schedule is tied, I usually use a recruiter”

This is a novice excuse to easily give up when things get tough in User Research. Sacrificing the quality of User Research is the first natural knee-jerk reaction that comes to the mind of an entry-level “Researcher”. It is usually due to a lack of experience and/or lack of capability.

A good reason for using a recruiter is always a strategic one, not a tactical one like this. Getting the right users for your User Research is the foundation of conducting a proper User Research. It does not matter how good your methodologies, tools and facilities in User Research, the results will likely be invalid if your users are not your target users.

An exception is when you are lucky for being able to get an Indonesian recruiter who understands the process of User Research thoroughly. In my more than 15 years of experience, I have never met a recruiter who understands User Research strategy in Indonesia. Your clients would not appreciate “lucky”, would they?

“mereka sudah ketemu duluan dengan respondennya jadi kayak ada yang bisa ‘dipegang’” — ”they (ed. the recruiter) has met them (ed. the users) first, so there seems to be something that you can ‘count on''’

Counting on a recruiter, who is likely not a User Researcher, to build a relationship for you, so you can have a false sense of security of counting on something, is not only a bad practice in User Research, but also an unethical one. Moreover, if you do not endeavor to build an empathy with your users from the beginning and understand their behavior, then you’d better call your effort something else, rather than User Research.

On a hindsight, there are some exceptions that I work with clients to recruit User Research participants. The first one is when a client has a direct access to their users, and I work with them to match the persona of our users. The second one is when a client has chosen their users because they have an internal capability of doing so.

“so far lumayan, sekitar 80–90% ok, paling telat sih (which is susah ditebak kalau di jkt ya)” — ”so far so good, it (the participant show up rate) is around 80–90%, the worst is showing up late (which is difficult to predict in Jakarta)”

This is another beginner excuse to justify a low quality User Research when things get tough. When you have done a User Research in Manila, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Jakarta, you would know that you face a similar challenge in recruiting participants. The traffic in these cities is mostly congested. If your participants have lived long enough in these cities, the reason for coming late is mainly a habit rather than the traffic.

As a good User Researcher, you should build an empathy on this habit, think and do something beyond accepting “good enough”. Accept the behavior and response to the challenge as a behavior rather than a mere fact. Good enough is an impediment to progress.

“tapi kalau last minute cancel, biasanya recruiternya bisa langsung cariin pengganti jadi ga buang2 waktu kita” — ”but in the case of last minute cancellation, the recruiter is usually able to find another replacement, we don’t waste our time”

Being practical and flexible on a field research is a must. Shortcut, however, is something a good User Researcher should avoid at all cost. When a recruiter could replace a last minute cancellation with another participant, it is a red flag. The last-minute backup participant may be a random person that may not fit into a user persona, unless the backup participants are a part of the initial recruitment.

“kalau backup, bisa cepet itu kalau sudah dicadangkan di setiap sesi yang sama dari over-recruit di awal” — ”(we) can get a backup participant quickly if in every similar session, we have over-recruited participants from the beginning”

In my experience, getting a backup participant quickly in cities like Jakarta is a myth. It will take at least one to several hours for the backup participants to arrive. It is bad luck if you need them in a late afternoon session of your User Research.

By the way, your time is the time the client (or your company) has paid for your User Research service, so if you feel like wasting your time in the occurrence of cancellation, you are not valuing your client (or your company).

“ada saatnya dimana perlu rekrut yang jenis responden yang kita nggak punya jangkauannya, seperti di remote areas, jadi perlu bantuan rekruter yang bisa raccy dulu ke sana buat rekrut in person, lalu kita cek ulang dengan kriteria rekrutmennya untuk menjamin kualitas” — ”there is time when we need to recruit participants beyond our capability, for example in remote areas, so there is a need to get help from a recruiter who could recruit participants ahead of us, then we recheck the recruited participants with our recruitment criteria to guarantee a quality”

So far, this is the best reason to engage a recruiter. Indonesia is a big country with many who still live in remote areas. This is when a recruiter can be very useful in our User Research process.

I disagree with the idea of using a recruiter in Jakarta to recruit participants in a remote area. The lack of understanding of local culture and custom may backfire. I usually make contact with a local person in a remote or rural area, who may or may not know about User Research, and work to engage the person in our User Research process.

Nonetheless, as a User Researcher, you are responsible for the quality of your User Research. You still need to do your homework, ensuring the quality of your User Research participants.

Recruiter is nice to have, especially in a fast-pace User Research environment. The challenge is to integrate the recruiter strategically in your User Research.

There are challenging times when things are beyond your capability or your reach due to geographic locations. This is when you need to be honest with your client and help them the best you can, with or without a recruiter.

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Disclaimer: This is my personal opinion. If you do not like an onion, do not eat one. If you do not like my personal opinion, do not read one. My personal opinion has no professional relationship whatsoever with my current affiliation with UX Indonesia or any other entities.

As a Google Mentor and Certified Design Sprint Master, Josh has a passion for the design, development, and use of ICT in solving business and humanity problems

As a Google Mentor and Certified Design Sprint Master, Josh has a passion for the design, development, and use of ICT in solving business and humanity problems