Every one of us likely carries some form of trauma that can influence the way we experience the world. That’s why, as part of our commitment to accessibility and inclusivity, we believe that integrating a trauma-informed approach is important.

Our objective when we are researching and testing with people is to maximise safety, gather deeper insights and create hope for our participants, clients, and ourselves.

We wanted to build on our knowledge of a trauma-informed approach, so we organised a comprehensive workshop session with Jenny Winfield, a trauma-informed practitioner and Head of Research for Chayn. Jenny was extremely generous with her knowledge and experience, helping us apply these insights to our processes and projects.

Trauma is not the story of something that happened back then. It’s the current imprint of that pain (…) and fear living inside people.

Bessel Van der Kolk

Key principles

Before we get into the practical implementations, a summary of the key principles of a trauma-informed approach can provide useful context. The following principles are those used by Chayn, and we worked through them in our session with Jenny.


Trauma can take away our feeling of safety and it can often be easily triggered. We can increase safety by describing in advance the topics we will and won’t cover and by incorporating frequent check-ins.

Trust and accountability

Trauma can lead to a loss of faith in people and processes. We can increase trust by being transparent about what we are doing and why, following through on our commitments and not overpromising.

Collaboration and equity

Trauma greatly affects marginalised people who are often spoken for rather than directly asked or heard. We can increase collaboration and equity by inviting marginalised people into our process and offering flexibility in participation methods.


Trauma can reduce a person’s capacity to feel in control and can lead to feelings of low self-worth. We can increase empowerment by giving choices whilst being mindful to not overwhelm and by validating feelings and concerns.


Trauma can lead to a diminished capacity to look forward in life. We can increase hope by highlighting how a participant’s input will positively impact the project.

Trauma does not impact us all in the same way. Context is critically important. There is a literacy around trauma missing in our organizations, ourselves, and our design work.

Rachael Dietkus

Our latest approach

Our research work includes semi-structured sessions with participants, usually conducted online. The sessions incorporate contextual enquiry, content-testing and usability-testing on products or prototypes.

1. Before a research session

Information sheet and consent form

We send an information sheet and consent form to each participant ahead of time, which outlines what can be expected with the aim of allowing people to feel prepared.

We note that you can choose not to answer any question, take breaks, and change your mind at any time. We also have a code of conduct for all participants in the session – anyone can end the session at any time without needing to provide justification.

The following information is included:

  • What the session is for, who will be in the session, and its duration.

  • The type of questions that will and won’t be asked.

  • The session will be video-recorded and transcribed to help with analysis unless the participant would prefer it not to be.

  • Notes used for insights will be anonymised and only shared within the team.

  • Details about the incentive for participation.

  • Contact details for additional information.


We have a few guidelines when scheduling to help us all perform at our best:

  • A maximum of three sessions per day of a team member performing the same role.

  • A minimum of 15 minutes is scheduled on either side of the session for the facilitator and notetaker to prepare and decompress.

  • A maximum number of attendees in the session – we limit it to one facilitator, one notetaker and one client representative.


We revised some of our language to feel more like we are a team working together with the participant. Our goal is to create a safe and comfortable session where we make it clear that we are testing the website and not the participant. Two examples of changes we have made:

  • ‘Interview’ to ‘Research session’

  • ‘Observer’ to ‘Notetaker’

2. During a research session

We have included a section in our discussion guide to remind us to follow some principles when facilitating a session:

  • Try to avoid including too many tasks and questions in a session – leave some time for mutual connecting and exploring topics gently.

  • Contextual questions help build rapport and understanding, but be mindful of seemingly neutral questions and assumptions, such as ‘Who do you live with?’ and ‘Where do you work?’ Instead, ask more open questions, such as ‘Can you tell us a bit about yourself?’ and ‘How do you spend your time?’

  • Build-in continuous consent through checkpoints with the option to pause or break, particularly if the subject matter is heavy or if the participant’s energy could be drained.

  • Don’t encourage personal disclosure – don’t ask about participants’ trauma; ask about their needs from services. If someone does disclose something, respond with empathy and give them time to share their story if they want to.

  • Follow the participant’s lead by reflecting the language they choose to use.

3. After a research session

There are a couple of things we try to do following a research session:

  • When referring to someone’s lived experience, use exact quotes so that we are as impartial and accurate in meaning as possible and that we do not ‘speak’ for people.

  • Share synthesised findings and results with participants, if possible, to show that we’re committed to creating insights that accurately reflect and include them.

We’re designing and demanding better solutions, and we should celebrate the joy and hopefulness in this.

Jenny Winfield

Final thoughts

A trauma-informed approach is a continual process. We can all experience trauma in different ways, so it’s important to support each other with compassion because triggers can occur unintentionally and unexpectedly. As we strive to be as trauma-aware as possible, it can be valuable to keep in mind the potential for hope and optimism that our work towards better solutions can bring.