Friday, May 05, 2006

A tiperoo or two on recruiting for focus groups

After having been involved in some focus groups from both sides of the discussion, I thought I'd pass along my 2 cents about how to address one of the biggest challenges in putting such a group together, namely, recruitment.

I love working with undergrads, but it can be like herding cats to get even the most motivated into a single room at a certain time. I was really proud of the last focus group I put together about undergraduate research because we had just the right number of people (5) and they were all very engaged in the conversation. Here are some things I learned that might help you too:

  • Recruit about double the amount of people you want and expect that half won't show up. I was nervous about doing this the first time, but at least with undergrads the rule seems to hold true.
  • Give incentives. Snacks and refreshments are a must, but you should also offer something extra. We gave students $10 on their ID cards, which they seemed to like. I didn't want to offer "serious" cash since, not only would it cost more, but I also wanted to talk with people who weren't solely motivated by money. A colleague of mine told me about how she offered a very active library contingent the opportunity to select a book for the library. That was a HUGE incentive for those die-hard library fans! Ultimately, the incentive depends on the patrons in question.
  • Don't spam prospects. (This one was key for me). Since a focus group is by nature focused, your recruitment strategy should be too. With my group, the topic was undergraduate research, so I asked my contacts in the Honors Department to help provide names of people who are doing research and might be interested, and also to send out some targeted e-mails on my behalf. In addition, we have an opt-in mailing list where I sent a request. The patrons on the list self-identify as being more engaged with the library than average, so the odds were good I'd find some people who were eager to share their ideas about research (and I did!). By doing these things, the focus group comes across as relevant and worthwhile to participants, and not just another piece of spam. I concede that this may leave room for a biased sample, but in my case I specifically wanted researchers rather than non-researchers and undergraduates rather than non-undergraduates, so I figured that being selective (applying purposive sampling) in this way was alright. I actually ended up with a wide range of research experience just by chance, which was very helpful.
  • Send reminders. What can I say? People need reminding. However, I wouldn't send too many - maybe one a week out and another the day before. I kept a spreadsheet of who planned on coming, who canceled, who wasn't sure, etc. I also made sure that I told people up-front what to expect and answered any questions they had.
These were the key things I've learned about focus group recruitment, and this past time it was no sweat getting enough people who also turned out to have terrific insights! I'm sure many of you have other successful recruitment techniques and I'd be happy to hear them. (Feel free to leave a comment!)

Categories: tips_to_try

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