AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators



Joshua Joseph on How to Help (Potential) Participants Say “YES”

My name is Joshua Joseph and I’m a Sr. Program Manager at Partnership for Public Service, a non-profit that works to revitalize the federal government by focusing on people and performance.

This post is about recruiting study participants – a companion to Elisabeth Autio’s aea365 post from December of 2011. In line with Elisabeth’s good advice, my aim is to share some things that have worked to (1) put myself in participants’ shoes and (2) make it easier and (3) more attractive for them to say “yes.”

Rad Resource: Getting into someone else’s shoes can be hit or miss. Instead of a Web link, your best resource is probably a person. Find and talk with a few potential participants early on. Tell them what you’re planning and ask what matters to them. Keep it casual, implore them to be brutally honest and then listen. You’ll get insights, tips, do’s and don’ts – all from the perspective of real insiders.

Hot Tip – Making it Easier. Simplifying to minimize participant burden usually helps. How else can we make it easier for participants to say “yes?”

  • It’s easier if they aren’t scared. Tell participants how you will safeguard any sensitive information they provide and protect against adverse effects.
  • It’s easier if you’re credible and relatable. Describing a study in formal or technical terms isn’t the only way to sound credible. But, occasionally, we all forget. Plain language works just as well…often better.
  • It’s easier if they know what to expect. Tell participants what they’ll be doing and why it matters, if you can. Most will appreciate the info.

Hot Tip – Making it More Attractive. Raffles and giveaways can be great perks for participating. So can the promise to share project results. What else can we do?

  • It’s more attractive when they laugh. Humor tends to be underappreciated as a recruiting tool. Don’t force it but do look for ways to lighten up your message. It makes us real and humanizes our work, which is usually a good thing.
  • It’s more attractive if they’re special. Find what makes participants’ views unique and then tell them.
  • It’s more attractive if others are doing it. Most people like to know they’re in good company. Sharing that their peers or colleagues are signing up can do the trick.

Hot Tip – Reading the Room. These are rules of thumb, not absolutes. For example, I worked with a passionate group that wanted a longer, more in-depth survey to share their rich insights. Go figure! So use your good judgment to adapt as needed.

Get Involved: Please share what’s worked (or hasn’t) for you via the comments. Anything counter-intuitive?

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.


  • Johanna · January 20, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Hey Joshua, great post! Thanks for sharing these time-tested but often overlooked approaches for getting others involved in the projects/research we carry out.


    • josh joseph · January 25, 2012 at 4:54 pm

      Thanks very much, Johanna! And sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I’m a bit new here and it’s taken me a little while to figure out where to find the comments 😉


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