Methods of Recruiting Participants For Research

After selecting a topic for my ethnography project, landing Sequencing.com as my client, getting my ethnography proposal approved, and creating my ethnographic interview script, the next step in the process was to begin recruiting participants for my UNT anthropology thesis. In this article, I will discuss methods for recruiting participants for research.

Recruiting Research Participants Online

In a previous post, I had discussed some user research recruitment agencies. For my thesis, I made use of one of those agencies, User Interviews, to recruit the DTCG genealogy group. For this group, I was looking for users of DTCG genealogy services like AncestryDNA or 23andMe who hadn’t yet used Seequencing.com, and likewise, I needed to find these participants without the help of Sequencing.com’s customer database.

The process involved creating a project on userinterviews.com. The project creation required me to detail the title, study type, description, compensation, communication modality, computer requirements (if required), phone requirements (if required), and browser requirements (if required). I also had to select between consumers or professionals as the target audience. Once the research project was posted and accessible on the userinterviews.com website, potential participants were able to review the project details and express interest in the research project, assuming they had a userinterviews.com account. If they expressed interest, they were required to fill out a screener survey which was created by me and posted as part of the project creation process.

The screener survey sought to advise them on the informed consent process which they would have to engage in if selected and to gauge more information about their past experiences with genetic genealogy as well as demographics. The results of the screener survey were recorded in the userinterviews.com control panel which only I had access to. After reviewing the results, I invited ten potential participants, who then had one more opportunity to accept or deny the invite. If the participant accepted the invite, they then selected a time on my schedule based on availability that was also detailed in the project creation process.

Once a potential participant accepted I was then able to communicate with them directly based on the messaging platform that is built into the userinterviews.com control panel to answer any questions that they may have had.

Recruiting User Research Participants By Email

The Sequencing.com health group was recruited for a one to one-and-a-half-hour interview and observation session by pulling a list of users from the Sequencing.com database that met certain criteria. The criteria defined sought out users who self-identified as consumer users during the sign-up process, who had uploaded at least one DNA data file, and used at least one application to analyze at least one DNA data file in the last year. The data also contained information on what service initially produced the DNA data file, such as AncestryDNA, 23andMe, MyHeritage, Genes for Good, and others. This list of users was used to identify potential participants. Those potential participants were then emailed via Sequencing.com’s branded MailChimp account and asked to participate in user research. The email included a link to a screener survey that I created in SurveyMonkey. If the potential participants wished to express interesting in being part of the study, they were required to fill out the screener survey.

The screener survey sought to advise them on the informed consent process which they would have to engage in if selected and to gauge more information about their past experiences with Sequencing.com as well as demographics. I then reviewed the screener survey results within the SurveyMonkey control panel and then emailed potential participants directly by email using a Sequencing.com email address to set up the research sessions.

Review of the Two Research Participant Recruitment Methods

Of the two methods of recruiting participants for research, using User Interviews was far easier than using email. The website is intuitive, and the functionality is more than sufficient for quickly finding the right research participant. On the other hand, email is cheap when compared to a recruiting service, but we all get too much email and so the response rate can be very low.  

That said, the difference between the two groups may have also complicated the matter. Users of DTCG health services did appear to be a bit more concerned with being involved in research then the genealogy group. While I can appreciate the concern, and definitely took the necessary steps to protect the identity of all participants, the truth is both groups should be equally worried about where they upload their data and who they talk to about it. I found that many users of the genealogy services upload their data to any site they can find, such as GEDCOM without fully grasping who they are turning it over to. Not all websites are HIPAA and HITECH compliant like Sequencing.com is.

But privacy centering around DTCG is for a future conversation when I get to posting about my results. For now, I will close by saying that I would also choose a recruiting service as my method for finding research participants whenever it is a fit. Of course, there is a cost to it, but it is far easier to get to the right people, quicker.


Also published on Medium.

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