Qualitative Research Participants: Gaining Access & Cooperation

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, p. 28).

Gaining cooperationWhen developing the sample design, including the sample size for a qualitative study, careful attention needs to be paid to how the researcher will gain access to individuals in the sample and then gain their cooperation to participate in the research.

In doing a company-sponsored in-depth interview study of employees, for example, gaining access to the employees who have been sampled may be as simple as sending each of them a notification that their employer has authorized the researcher to contact them to request their participation in the research study. Or it may be as challenging as gaining permission from “gatekeepers” who have the right to deny access to the individuals the researcher wants to study — e.g., parents of the children who will be studied, presidents of the professional organizations whose members will be studied, wardens of prisons whose inmates will be studied, etc. The challenge of gaining access from gatekeepers is essentially finding successful strategies that (a) provide guarantees to the gatekeepers that no harm will come to the participants, (b) communicate the worthiness of the research study, and (c) offer some benefit to the gatekeeper or the organization.

Once access to the sampled participants has been granted, the researcher must use strategies to gain cooperation from those who have been chosen. Ideally a very large portion of those who have been sampled will agree to participate. Gaining cooperation is important. This is because, from a Total Quality Framework standpoint, individuals who are chosen to be included in the study but do not participate (e.g., because they refused to cooperate) may differ in important ways from those who do participate, jeopardizing the integrity of the data  which can lower or even undermine the credibility of the qualitative study. If, for example, a disproportionately greater number of males, compared to females, who have been sampled from a list of college freshmen can never be contacted or refuse to participate, and if these sampled males would have provided data that are materially different from the data provided by the other freshmen on the list who did participate in the study, then the research findings will be biased because of the data missing from a major subgroup of the population.

To avoid these problems, qualitative researchers need to utilize strategies meant to overcome the reason(s) that causes some people who are sampled to not cooperate and fail to participate. Such strategies include:

  • Building rapport early with the participants, thereby gaining their trust.
  • Assuring the participants of complete confidentiality.
  • Explaining the non-material benefits to be gained by participating (e.g., helping to raise the quality of life in the neighborhood).
  • Explaining the material benefits, if any, to be gained by participating (e.g., the offer of an Amazon gift card).

Whichever strategies the researchers choose to deploy, ideally they will be tailored (at the individual level) to appeal to the particular types of participants in the sample in order to overcome reluctance or unequivocal refusal during the recruiting process.

Giving Research Participants a Clue (& helping them be “better” participants)

As qualitative and quantitative researchers who explore the thinking and doing of human beings, we are nothing without the willing cooperation from our research participants. We pool them women said, woman listening to gossipinto a sample, then we contact them, we screen them, we coax them, we adhere to strict reminder protocols to motivate their interest and lure them into submission, and then… And then we are disappointed, bemused, and sometimes a bit angry at participants’ sub-par performance as actors in our research production (be it, for example, a focus group discussion or online survey). I have read lengthy discussions from researchers who describe their participants as “demons,” “lazy,” “cynics,” or “hostiles” because they have not paid their due respects to our quest for true knowledge but rather undermine our efforts by speaking too much or too critically in a focus group, or speeding through a survey questionnaire.

So, where the research participant was initially cajoled with assurances of their importance – “Your Opinion Counts!” – as well as our endearing gratitude for their cooperation, Read Full Text

Importance of Nonresponse in Qualitative Research

Nonresponse, and inaccuracies in the data due to nonresponse, is more than a quantitative issue.  While qualitative researchers may shudder at the thought, the typically-ignored impact of nonresponse is just as important in the qualitative realm.  Why is nonresponse in qualitative research important?  Because we are conducting qualitative research.  Not qualitative let’s get a few warm bodies around the table for our face-to-face focus group, but actually research methods that, like all research, demand certain protocols that address potential biasing effects.  One of these is nonresponse.  The warm bodies in our group discussion may make the moderator and client observers feel great – Thank goodness, someone showed up! – but the uncomfortable reality is that the people who chose not to participate – or were never contacted by a recruiter and asked to participate in the first place – greatly affect our research outcomes.  Indeed, the trajectory of a group discussion Read Full Text