Perfect Research Participant 1200

What makes the perfect research participant?

Tom Woodnutt

Tom Woodnutt

Feeling Mutual

Tom Woodnutt is Founder of Feeling Mutual, the agile online and mobile qualitative research specialists. He helps clients and agencies run global studies and offers training in the space. Tom has been a Digital Skills trainer for the Association of Qualitative Researchers (AQR) and is a regular speaker at industry conferences, including the MRS, MRMW and IleX.

One clue is in the title - I’m purposely not referring to people who take part in online research as ‘respondents’ or ‘sample’. To do so would imply that they're somehow passive guinea pigs in an experiment. Instead, we need to respect them as individuals in order to inspire them to actively participate.

Find the best possible participants for your research projects by asking these five questions when designing participant recruitment:

1. Who do we really need?

First and foremost you'll need people who will answer the objectives of the study. That means making sure the recruitment specifications are relevant to the commercial objectives behind the project. For example, if the project is about brand activation ideas you'll need people who have a relationship with the brand as well as those who don’t (but could). That will help you understand both hooks and barriers to engagement which are vital in any brand strategy.

2. Are they really who they say they are?

It’s essential to be confident that participants genuinely fit their claimed profile. Some say it's more difficult to judge this in online projects. My view is that if you’re using a trusted recruiter you can rely on them to get the right people. Liveminds Behavioural Recruitment powered by Facebook enables them to find people based on real not reported behaviours, both from the 50 minutes a day they spend on average reading, commenting, watching and sharing on the site and also what they do on 10 million other websites.

3. Are they able to answer our questions?

It's vital that you select people who are in a position to do what’s required of them. This could mean, for example, that they're capable of taking mobile video (i.e. they have the technical ability to record and upload video as well as the confidence and willingness to do so). These requirements MUST be covered in the recruitment specifications. You'll also need to make sure that the participants know how much time they'll need to commit to the project to avoid any confusion later on.

4. Are they willing to play nicely?

The last thing anyone needs in a research project is a rebel force who wants to derail the process or someone unmotivated to complete what is asked of them. So weeding unsuitable people out early is most productive. You can do this in online recruitment by asking an open-ended question. If someone takes the time and effort to complete it then they’re more likely to be the kind of self-motivated, constructive person you want in your study.

5. Will they have the aptitude to express themselves?

You also want to find people who are expressive by nature, both in terms of creativity and articulation. I’m not saying you need to find artists and poets but rather people who naturally want to express themselves and who have the ability to be creative. Creativity can be tested through ‘divergent thinking’ tasks. Try asking people how many functions they can think of for an arbitrary object - the more they come up with, the more creative they’re likely to be.

If you make sure your approach to recruitment allows you to answer these five questions with a resounding ‘yes’ then your projects are more likely to achieve the levels of participation and strategic relevance that clients require.

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