Recruiting: The Innovation Gap?

Over the past ten years or so, there has been a proliferation of innovation in qualitative research.


Innovation Abounds

Over the past ten years or so, there has been a proliferation of innovation in qualitative research. You can’t go to a conference or read a trade magazine without being inspired by exciting new tools and methodologies that leverage online, mobile, video or even wearable technologies.

But with all of the innovation in methodology, it sometimes feels that one aspect of qualitative research has been left behind. It’s an area in which little has changed, and where we are still doing things much the way we were years ago: recruiting.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Over the years, my recruiting partners and I have experimented with new and different ways to recruit, some of which have been incredibly effective. My basic motivation was pragmatic. I had some projects where the recruit was particularly tough, demanding a new approach. I also, however, love coming up with creative solutions; and given that much of my client work is for innovation projects, it seems appropriate that I should try to be innovative in all aspects of my work. In this article, I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned.

A New Model for Recruiting

The core problem with the way recruiting is often done today is that we neglect to put ourselves in the shoes of our participants. It’s ironic because as researchers we are experts at doing this in our work, but somehow this crucial step is commonly overlooked during the recruiting phase. Specifically, we need to think through WHO these people are, WHERE they tend to be, WHAT type of research they will enjoy doing, and WHY they will want to do it.

I was once conducting a project on toddler foods. The client wanted to recruit moms who had a new baby and a toddler. I immediately knew, of course, that a traditional recruiting method wouldn’t be ideal for this project. The typical busy mom with a new baby and toddler wasn’t going to want to disrupt her schedule, find care for her children and then get herself to a focus group facility. Moms willing to do this would most likely be motivated primarily by the incentive, which in my experience, doesn't lead to the best recruits. I knew that I had to be creative to find the right participants.

I ended up partnering with some local mothers’ clubs and visited with them at their weekly playgroups to share and get feedback on concepts. I offered a small incentive that they appreciated, but mostly they were doing it because it was fun, interesting and different, and was of no inconvenience. As a moderator, I didn’t have the luxury of a controlled environment (quite the opposite with moms nursing, babies crawling around, and toddlers running off!) but it was authentic; and I felt that their contributions were authentic as a result.

This model of partnering with non-profits to find great research participants isn’t limited to busy moms, of course. In general, non-profits can be an excellent source of fresh, high-quality recruits who are willing to share their insights as a way to support a cause in which they believe. I’m more confident that a person is truly a dog lover, for example, if they are a member of a rescue organization and are contributing part of their incentive toward that non-profit, than if they simply responded affirmatively to a screener question about their love of dogs.

When I have a B2B or healthcare recruit, I almost always look to trade groups to see how I can partner with them and contribute to their association in exchange for access to their members. The result has been phenomenal. I will often conduct in-person research at trade shows and conventions, where I find highly qualified participants who are there to share and learn. Because the research is associated with their trusted trade association, they are not skeptical; and the fact that they or their employer paid for them to attend the conference increases the likelihood that they are a credible member of that industry.

For example, an efficient and effective way to reach people who own or run mid-to large-sized cleaning companies is by going to the BSCAI (Building Service Contractors Association International) conference. Does your client want to talk to directors of hospital operating rooms? Go to the AORN (Association of periOperative Registered Nurses) or OR Manager conference. It’s far better than trying to reach these niche populations via traditional methods.  Every industry has a trade group (or several) and there’s often a conference or convention coming up.

If you have a recruit that seems daunting or even nearly impossible, there is probably a solution out there – you just have to be creative in finding it. Before beginning any project, put your mind into thinking about these four questions, and work with your recruiting partner to do the same:

  • WHO are these people from whom you want to learn? 
  • WHERE do they spend their time?
  • WHAT type of research will they enjoy doing?
  • WHY would they want to participate in your study?

Put another way, by being as innovative in your recruiting as you are in other aspects of your work, you will find better participants than you ever imagined.

Allison Rak is a member of the Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA).  She is the owner of Vatoca Partners, an innovation and research consultancy and the founder and CEO of Doing Good Research, a firm dedicated to helping researchers find high-quality participants in an innovative and socially conscious way.

QRCA provides industry-leading resources that are essential to its members and the professionals who use qualitative research. As an association dedicated to advancing the discipline of qualitative research worldwide, QRCA’s nearly 1,000 global members apply their passion, creativity and experience to help clients tap into the power of qualitative marketing research.


This content was originally published by Qualitative Research Consultants Association . Visit their website at

Presented by

Related Topic

Related Articles

Related Webinars