Monday, May 14, 2018

Glitches be Crazy: On the Forces at Work in Qualitative Research Recruiting

Recruiting qualified, articulate participants that show up for the study is not so easy.  Yet, it can be argued that recruiting skills may be as essential as the moderator’s research skills in the successful execution of a study.  Even the most gifted, seasoned qualitative research professional can be upended by poor recruiting, despite his or her abilities to unearth participants’ input and the insights that they yield.  As such, in order to best serve their clients, recruiters must appreciate and manage the great many glitches that can occur in any study, regardless of the venue, methodology, or target population.

Focus Groups and In-depth Interviews
Surely the most tried and true method to obtain qualitative research data is through the traditional in-person focus group (FG) and its close cousin, the in-depth interview (IDI).  Assuming a focus group facility as the standard venue for these types of studies, simple things like reminder calls, directions to the facility, parking availability, and other logistical details that are essential for the participant, may be overlooked by the facility.  Other essential aspects of the production that may be taken for granted include equipment and supplies.  Audio and video recording, live streaming, and other technology-related requirements must always be checked in advance prior to scheduled interview sessions.  Ample supplies must always be on hand, whether it is a simple matter of colored pens, easel pads, or post-it notes.  There is nothing more stressful to a moderator than to have these sorts of things breakdown after an interview has begun.  In light of these realities, flawless execution must be the rule of the day for every single project.

In-home Ethnographies
What if the study is ethnographic in nature and requires the researcher to conduct interviews in participants’ home?  This methodology is fraught with disastrous potentialities, to say the least, and only a kid gloves treatment of the recruiting activities will make study success more likely.  The fact is, both the participant and the researcher must be made comfortable in advance in order for the in-person exchange to be fruitful.  For participants, they need to feel safe enough to invite a complete stranger into their homes, and not feel threatened in any way.  Likewise, researchers need to feel safe and welcome as they are being (considerably) paid to conduct the research.  Researchers will have concerns about whether the residence is home to any weapons, illegal drugs, or even pets that may or may not be under sufficient control by the participant.  Steps taken in advance in the recruiting process in ascertaining the status of these and other issues, and exchanged between the two parties, is absolutely crucial in setting positive conditions for in-home ethnographies.

Online Qualitative Research
Another popular venue for qualitative research is online.  Whether the particular methodology is webcam FGs, asynchronous bulletin board, or some other medium within which moderators and participants interact in a computer-mediated environment, there are several “deal breaker” factors that loom large in the potential outcome of an online qualitative study.  For example, certain basic computing necessities exist such as a webcam that works, one which the participant knows how to use.  Other times, it is something like ownership of a smart phone that can snap photos, take video, add text, and perhaps email the whole set of data with attachments.  Does it exist and does the participant know how to do that?  Even other times, especially with bulletin boards, participants can drift into “screensaver mode” as participants fall off schedules and fail to respond to probing questions from the moderator.  Simply put, recruiters must keep tab on these conditions to ensure the moderator gets his or her money’s worth in the quality and quantity of participants’ responses who are otherwise being provided an incentive for their effort.

At Accelerant Research, we appreciate all that goes into planning and executing qualitative research.  But even with the most highly skilled moderator, in the most state-of-the-art facility, offering a handsome incentive, if recruitment fails to deliver “real participants” that show up and are candid, the study will fail. 

From the recruiting team at Accelerant Research…best regards and safe travels.