Improving participation rates: research recruitment best practices

Those of you out there who’ve tried it know: recruiting research participants is HARD. Here are a few insights from the research to help you with better recuitment.

  1. Personalized contact with respondents, followed by pre-contact and aggressive follow-up phone calls *: Don’t count on a form letter, email or random tweet to do the job. Capitalize on your personal relationship with that person. If you don’t have a personal relationship, ensure that you use the person’s name, and for God’s sake, spell it correctly!

    Once you’ve made initial contact, you are not done. Not by a long shot. Make sure you speak to the person (you can do this through IM or email if you’d like) to give them more information. They’re now interested. Don’t stop! One more step!

    Follow up 1 week after initial contact. Assuage any fears they may have. Answer any questions honestly. And above all, be available for more information.

  2. External researchers with social capital are best**: University-based researchers have been shown to have the best participation rates, but you don’t have to be a professor.  Researcher Sister Marie Augusta Neal of Emmanuel College achieved a near perfect response rate because of her close ties to the respondents and their communities. The lesson here is, if you hire a consultant, make sure they’re trusted. Even better if they personally know the people to be recruited.
  3. Monetary incentives have no effect, unless money is offered “no strings attached”***: Little known fact: the best way to use a monetary incentive is to offer it, up front, with absolutely no strings attached. The “free” money makes people feel more indebted socially. Evidence of this effect can be found in the book Freakonomics. Researchers found that daycare centres that levied late penalties on tardy parents actually had more of a late-pickup problem than those that levied no fine. Why? Because the parents reduced their relationship to the daycare as a mere transaction. Use the “gift economy” approach and ensure a feeling of indebtedness. My personal favourite is a coupon for a single iTunes song at $.99. It is cheap but appears to have great value. Offer it, up front, and then ask for participation

*  Cook, C., F. Heath, and R. Thompson. 2000. “A Meta-analysis of Response Rates in Web or Internet-based Surveys.” Educational and Psychological Measurement 60:821-836.

** Rogelberg, S., A. Luong, M. Sederburg, and D. Cristol. 2000. “Employee Attitude Surveys: Examining the Attitudes of Noncompliant Employees.” Journal of Applied Psychology 85:284-293.

***Hager, M., S. Wilson, T. Pollak, and P. Rooney. 2003. “Response Rates for Mail Surveys of Nonprofit Organizations: A Review and Empirical Test.” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 32:252-267. Singer, E. (2006) Introduction: Nonresponse Bias in Household Surveys. Public Opinion Quarterly, 70, 637-645

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One response to “Improving participation rates: research recruitment best practices

  1. Pingback: Getting the 100% participation rate « Yellowsubmarinequal’s Blog

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