Creative Strategies to Find Study Participants
Approaching and recruiting potential study participants can prove a challenging task for students, researchers and research groups. Your study idea might be very original and worthy, but it’s the participants that will make it all happen. So you need to make sure you find people that will be able to provide you with rich data and don’t despair if the process takes a bit longer than anticipated.
You will also need to adopt a different approach depending on the nature of your study. While a quantitative study will most likely require random, objective participant selection; qualitative research will allow for a more selective, hand-picked approach and personal involvement.
1. Find a good informant (gatekeeper)
Identify an “informant” who has a lot of connections in the area you want to study and seek them out. This informant is not a participant per se – he or she is a gatekeeper that can provide you with useful contacts and recommendations. For example, if you are studying families with a child who has autism, you might want to get in contact with a person who recently wrote a book on autism. He or she could provide you with some contacts and/or point you in the right direction. Not only does that bring you closer to potential participants, it also gives you a good reference when you contact them.
2. Look for support and advocacy groups
Depending on the type of research you’re conducting, it might be a good idea to approach support groups that connect people with specific characteristics. This could be particularly useful if you are studying a medical or social phenomenon. Different advocacy groups, e.g. patient advocacy groups, and clubs can be a good entry point as well.
3. Use a personalized approach
Often, a personal, face to face approach might be the most efficient and rewarding. People generally find it harder to reject a request in person. If they meet you and get to talk to you about the project you will probably have a better chance at recruitment. If possible (and practical), consider meeting up with potential participants and explaining your research and protocols in person. If that is not feasible, try phoning them. This is a preferable method to simply writing an e-mail or contacting people through social media.
Once you get access to a good participant, ask them about other people they know and who might fit your criteria. It is likely that people who agree to participate can refer you to other potential participants. Word of mouth can also help spreading information about your research and getting people interested in what you are doing. Especially in qualitative research, participants might feel like discussing and explaining their experiences to others and, in turn, might feel inclined to get other people they know included too.
5. Using the Internet and social media
For some types of research, it might be beneficial to create an ‘online persona’ and get people to follow you and engage with you online. You might also consider starting a blog or launching a website, although this might not be very time-efficient and can require additional effort and technical skill. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and other social media can all be used to connect yourself to potential participants and introduce your research endeavors to new people.