My name is Elizabeth Autio and I am an associate at Education Northwest, a non-profit organization serving educators through research, evaluation, and technical assistance.
Lesson Learned for Recruiting Study Participants: Recruiting study participants is challenging. Success has ramifications for continued funding, buy-in and attrition. Based on my experience recruiting for a federally-funded randomized controlled trial, here are some lessons learned:
1. Develop a system: This lays the groundwork for your recruitment activities. It includes a strategy for who you want to approach, through what mechanisms, and what resources you can leverage to do so. Materials include presentations, a website, and handouts that have a consistent look and content. A contacts and communications tracking mechanism, such as a database, will help you stay organized and report progress to your funders.
2. Make participation attractive: Ideally, the program that you are studying is something potential participants need or want. Offer incentives that thank the participants for the time it takes to engage in study activities and are provided upon successful completion. Investigate things that will not cost additional money; for example, in our education setting, we facilitated course credit for teachers who attended study-related professional development.
3. Don’t think like a researcher: Put yourself in the shoes of potential participants. Imagine yourself a teacher, public health worker, administrator, or service provider. What would you want to know about the study? Most likely, you would want to know practical things, such as: What will I receive? What do I have to do? Why would I want to do that? Is there any risk? How much time will it take? Does it mesh with what I am already doing?
4. Allocate adequate time and money: Successful recruitment takes an upfront investment of time and money. We found that it took several times what we originally budgeted. When planning, think realistically about the sample size that you need, the eligible pool, their likelihood of participation, and how many potential participants you will therefore need to approach. Are you leveraging existing contacts or building new ones? Can you budget for in-person visits? Are you traveling, and, if so, how far? Can you bring participants together to a central location to hear your recruitment message, or do you have to travel to each site separately? Are there multiple levels of hierarchy that you need to work with, or just one? How will you secure participation, and who will collect and track this? These are examples of some of the questions you might ask yourself as you begin budgeting.
Rad Resource: Learn more about recruitment through downloading our Evaluation 2011 session handouts from the AEA Public eLibrary.
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