March 14, 2016
By Lizzie Welch, Research Officer at PSSRU Kent
Recently I was involved in recruiting participants for a strand of work for a project. We relied on these people stating they were happy to be possibly contacted, and then it was down to me to sell them the benefits of giving me their time to talk about their experiences. I would often come across ‘What is in it for me?’ to which I could only say you can potentially help influence policy and make things work better for people in your situation. This got me thinking. These people have a point!
What was the incentive for people to give up their time and get involved with this research? So much is paid for by the tax payer under the stance that our research will improve health and social care….yet it is sometimes difficult to get members of the public involved in research. It’s easy to see what is in it for the researcher and their research institution, and indeed there are few academics that want their work to have no impact or influence over people whatsoever.
As well as being researchers we are human beings, living in the same country as our research participants, subject to the same laws and policies as everyone else and generally it is possible to engender an atmosphere of ‘we are all in it together’, in the view that this is enough of a reward for taking part. However, it is my view we should be offering something more tangible for people’s time. Indeed, some people may be happy merely knowing that they have informed a part of policy or affected the results of some important research, but sometimes the water is far less muddy if you ask people for something and can offer them something in return.
In my current project we did manage to recruit a fair number of participants but mainly because the topic was such an important matter in their life and they wanted someone to talk to and so were willing to give up their own time to talk to me, seeing me I think as a sympathetic ear. What we did in this instance was send these people a small voucher after they participated as a ‘thank you’. Interestingly, I received many phone calls and emails from participants saying how grateful they were to receive this and how appreciated and surprised it made them feel. And it felt great to be able to thank them for their time in a tangible way.
This is one of the realities of academic research in social science. Trying to engage the public with our research topic and gaining their consent to take part is so vital to creating a fuller, richer picture, and – therefore – results that have meaning in the real world. It is fraught with complications but can produce surprising, wonderful results. The question remains to incentivise or not to incentivise!