In-depth interviews

Research Quality & the Impact of Monetary Incentives

The following is adapted from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 78-79).

Monetary incentives & quality researchGaining cooperation from research participants and respondents is important to the quality of qualitative and survey research. A focus on gaining cooperation helps to mitigate potentially weakened data due to the possibility that the individuals who do not cooperate — do not participate in the research — differ in meaningful ways compared to those who do cooperate. As mentioned in an article posted earlier in Research Design Review, an effective component to the researcher’s strategy for gaining cooperation among participants is the offer of material incentives (e.g., cash, a gift card, prized tickets to a sporting event, donation to a favorite charity).

Although monetary incentives are routinely given to qualitative research participants to boost cooperation, the researcher needs to keep in mind that the offer of a cash (or equivalent) incentive may also jeopardize the quality of the actual focus group discussion, in-depth interview, or observation. The following is one example of how monetary incentives may have the unwanted effect of skewing participants’ responses in an in-depth interview (IDI) study.

Cook and Nunkoosing (2008) conducted an in-person IDI study with 12 “impoverished elders” in Melbourne, Australia to investigate community services for the poor among those “who are excluded or at risk of exclusion from their communities.” Research participants could participate in up to two interviews and were given $20 for each interview.

In reviewing the key findings, the researchers observed many “interview interactions that were atypical.” At least part of these irregularities was attributed to the monetary incentive which, according to Cook and Nunkoosing, helped to create an interview environment where interviewees were motivated “to manage the presentation of self, retain control over the exchange of information, and reduce the stigma of poverty by limiting disclosure and resisting researcher questioning” (p. 421).

The importance of the incentive in the interview process became clear when interviewees volunteered comments such as “I need the $20 . . . ” and critically compared the $20 to better (i.e., higher) cash incentives offered by other research studies. In this way interviewees were in effect “selling” their stories to the interviewer (and, some would say, at a bargain price) which, based on the researchers’ analyses, tainted interviewees’ responses with “stylized accounts” (or “rehearsed narratives”) as well as “minimal disclosure,” as seen in this excerpt from the transcripts (p. 424):
Participant: What did you want to know?
Interviewer: All about you.
Participant: That’s about it, like, there’s not too much.
Interviewer: Do you want to tell me a bit more? I don’t really know who you are yet.
Participant: You do.
Interviewer: Tell me a bit about who you are, what you like, what you don’t like.
Participant: I don’t like him [Gesturing toward the other agency client].

This dialog came towards the end of a 30-minute interview and helps to illustrate “the researcher’s frustration at [their] inability to engage the participant in in-depth discussion” (p. 423).

Research design is always a balancing act involving various trade-offs associated with meeting the key objectives, method(s) and strategy for engaging the target population(s), and the efficient use of available resources. An important researcher skill is understanding the implications of these trade-offs to the integrity of the final data and overall quality of the research investigation. A monetary incentive may be highly effective in securing participation in our research but what is its ultimate impact on data quality? This is the concern of a skilled researcher.

Cook, K., & Nunkoosing, K. (2008). Maintaining dignity and managing stigma in the interview encounter: The challenge of paid-for participation. Qualitative Health Research, 18(3), 418–427.

Qualitative Research: Design, Methods, & Online Mode

In 2020, there were 14 articles published in Research Design Review. These articles include those qualitative research design, methods, online modepertaining to broad issues in qualitative research design, such as sample size, as well as more narrow topics concerning specific qualitative methods – focus groups, ethnography, in-depth interviews, and case study research – and the online mode. A compilation of these articles is now available here for download.

In addition to these 14 articles, six compilations of earlier RDR articles were released in 2020 for download. These include:

In-depth Interview Data: Achieving Quality From Cooperation

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 75-77)

cooperationAn important aspect related to Scope within the Credibility component of the Total Quality Framework (TQF) for qualitative research design is the extent to which the researcher is successful in gaining cooperation from the participants. In an in-depth interview (IDI) study, the researcher is concerned with the impact that the proportion of selected interviewees not interviewed or only partially interviewed has on the integrity of the data. This is the domain of research that is often termed “nonresponse.” If this proportion is large and/or if the group that is selected but not interviewed differs in meaningful ways from those who are interviewed, bias can infiltrate the final data of an IDI study and compromise the credibility of the research.

To avoid this, qualitative researchers need to give serious a priori thought to how they will gain high and representative levels of cooperation from the persons they have selected to interview, and how individuals who do not cooperate may differ in past experiences, attitudes, behaviors, and knowledge compared to interviewees. The researcher must keep in mind that bias may enter into the outcomes, and the credibility of the study’s findings and interpretations thereby weakened, if the characteristics of those in the sample who do not cooperate with an IDI study are correlated with the key topics the study is investigating. Likewise, qualitative researchers using the IDI method should also constantly monitor the representativeness of the group of selected participants that does cooperate and watch whether the characteristics of that group deviate from the characteristics of the target population. This may be difficult in the case of the email IDI (or other asynchronous text-based mode) where the interviewer must stay alert to the consistency of participants’ responses and recognize when the identity of the interviewee may have changed (i.e., someone other than the recruited research participant is the one now responding). For instance, in an email IDI study among Read Full Text