Recruiting Study Participants from Under-Served Groups by Nicole MartinRogers

I am Nicole MartinRogers, Ph.D., a senior research manager at Wilder Research. Our mission is to improve the lives of individuals, families, and communities through research and evaluation.

Most of the time when we are asked to conduct an evaluation study, the participants can be found through the program being evaluated (obviously!) But in some cases, an organization may want to do a study to learn about people who have not participated in their programs.

For example, Wilder Research has worked with the Minnesota Historical Society to conduct studies with people who have never visited their sites and who are from under-served cultural communities. To complete these studies, we were able to identify members of under-represented cultural groups, and have them participate in the program or exhibit and then in a focus group to learn more about their experience.

Lesson Tearned: We often do not have direct relationships with the under-served communities that our client organizations are interested in learning about. In those cases, we have contracted with community-based organizations that serve the target community to help us recruit and host studies. These organizations have trusted relationships with community members and are best positioned to help us identify participants.

Cool Trick: Community-based organizations often have locations that are familiar and accessible for members of the target community, so you should consider if it would be better to have participants meet at that community location and provide group transportation to your site.

Cool Trick: We often ask a leader from the community-based organization who recruited the participants to welcome them into the study and to introduce us (the researchers) to build trust. In many cultural communities, trust is gained through relationships, so demonstrating that you have the buy-in of a community leader can go a long way in terms of recruiting study participants from under-served communities and helping them to understand why it is important to participate in your study.

Lesson Learned: Offer incentives to participate. Consider what type of incentives might work best for your target group. It should be something that is useful to them.

Cool Trick: Perhaps the organization that is sponsoring the study can offer free memberships or passes to participants, or some merchandise from their gift store. Providing a cash incentive, transportation assistance (as needed), child care assistance (as appropriate), plus institution-specific incentives can help to encourage participation among a target population that has either low awareness of or interest in engaging with that program or place.

Rad Resources:

Wilder Research report for Minnesota Historical Society on Focus Groups with Potential Visitors from Latino and African American Communities

Speaking for Ourselves: A Study with Immigrant and Refugee Communities in the Twin Cities is a Wilder Research study that includes a report on civic participation and social engagement that has a section about mainstream cultural amenities; the main study page  has links to reports on the experiences immigrants and refugees in many sectors

More on community-engaged research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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