Blog and News

From Red Tape to Innovation: Empowering the Public to Shape Federal Websites with USAgov’s New Research Program

April 23, 2024

By Gigi Frias, Director of Customer Experience


User research is a crucial component of designing usable websites and digital services that meet the needs of all users. However, conducting user research in the government sector has always been challenging due to bureaucratic hurdles and lengthy approval processes. But all that is about to change with the launch of the USAgov research panel program. This groundbreaking initiative allows anyone from the public to sign up and contribute to shaping the future of federal websites. In this blog post, Bixal’s director of customer experience, Gigi Frias, explores why this program is important and why you should consider participating.

Increasing Diversity and Better Representation

One of the key benefits of the USAgov research program is that it paves the way for increased diversity and better representation for government websites and digital services. By establishing a process accessible by anyone from the public, this initiative ensures that a diverse range of user research participants are involved in the ideation and design processes. Building a truly inclusive government website requires direct engagement with all types of constituents, including underrepresented and marginalized groups. This program aims to fill the gap in the understanding of their needs and make government websites as easy to use as possible for everyone.

Addressing the Needs of Vulnerable Populations

Unlike the private sector, the users who rely on government websites and digital services are often the most vulnerable. This includes individuals facing social risk factors such as poverty, disability, and limited proficiency in English. By actively recruiting a diverse range of participants for user research, the program aims to ensure that the websites and services meet the needs of these vulnerable populations. It's a step towards bridging the digital divide and creating a more inclusive government.

Fair Compensation Encourages Participation

Recognizing the value of every research participant's time, the research program compensates participants, something that is “generally not permissible” under the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA), the law that governs how federal agencies collect information from the public. Allocating $75/hour for each research participant is a significant improvement over the limited budgets we are used to seeing, and one that incentivizes low-wage workers most of all. This fair compensation helps overcome financial constraints and facilitates the recruitment of individuals who might hesitate to participate. Ethically, it is imperative to acknowledge and compensate those who contribute to the government's efforts in improving digital services. This is particularly crucial for individuals with social risk factors who are more likely to have lower incomes. By taking time from their busy lives to fulfill a recognized business need, research participants supporting government goals should receive compensation for their invaluable assistance.

Overcoming Bureaucratic Barriers

Research in the government has traditionally been hindered by the PRA, which limits non-PRA cleared research to less than 10 participants in a 12-month period. This number is often too low for statistically significant validation. However, the research program revolutionizes this process by connecting approved researchers with public participants. This bypasses the usual barriers and allows for a more efficient and streamlined user research process. It opens opportunities for more comprehensive and impactful research without compromising on compliance.

Empowering Public Participation

With the launch of the research program, USAgov is empowering the public to actively contribute to the development and improvement of federal websites. By signing up and participating in user research activities, individuals can have a direct impact on shaping the future of government digital services. This level of public participation not only improves the quality of the websites but also fosters a sense of ownership and transparency in government processes.


USAgov’s research program is a milestone achievement in government user research. By encouraging anyone from the public to participate, it aims to increase diversity, address the needs of vulnerable populations, overcome bureaucratic barriers, and empower public participation. If you're passionate about improving government websites and digital services, I urge you to consider signing up for the program today. Together, we can create a more accessible, user-friendly, and inclusive government for all.