Why there is no problem with professional research participants

Some people argue that there is an inherent difficulty with so-called professional (or repeat) research participants and respondents. But we don’t agree, and in this article we look at the opposing arguments.


We believe there are two main arguments which are used to support the view that there is a problem with professional participants.  The first is that such participants get to know the recruitment system, and are therefore able to “game” it. The second is that they give less attention to the research that they take part in, perhaps because of boredom or over-familiarity. Let’s look at each in turn. 


Can professional participants game the recruitment system?

This depends on how the recruitment is done on each project.  If a recruiter is careful to avoid giving signals to potential recruits about the qualifying criteria then prospective participants cannot game the system. So it is down to the skills and experience of the recruiter. 


Digging a little deeper, the argument goes that recruitment using social media, such as Facebook adverts is based on behavioural patterns, or “big data” rather than claimed activities or interests. 


In other words, if you were recruiting vegans for example, in a recruitment survey a professional participants might claim they are vegan, and this may or may not be true. However, with Facebook advertising it is possible to see that prospective recruits follow certain vegan FB sites, or display behavioural characteristics consistent with being a vegan. In other words, this is actual behaviour. 


But we don’t buy this argument. It is quite simple in a recruitment survey (with professional participants) to frame the question about being a vegan in an open-ended way, such that it gives no clue to the prospective participant that this is a qualifying condition. 


Moreover, we would point out that non-professional participants who are recruited via FB advertising can also potentially game the system, especially if an incentive is being offered. It is down to the approach taken by the recruiter. One risk, for example, is that people who have been recruited then forward the recruitment survey link to their friends or family.


Do professional respondents give less attention? 

It all depends on how they are recruited. The important thing is to be completely transparent about what will be expected of them in the research. If this is done, then there need be no problem. 


Participants need to understand that the research is administered, not self-administered like the recruitment survey that they may have completed. In other words, their expectations need to be set. 


As we write this article, we have just completed a recruitment piece for online qual groups, with participants having been recruited from a research panel. The participants were of good quality, and they engaged properly. We have done many such recruitment projects in this way in the past. 


In practice, participants recruited via FB may also be inclined to give less attention than they might. Some people are just lazy, whether they are on a panel or not. So again, it is down to the skill of the recruiter to recruit people who will engage properly. 



We are agnostic on sample source. There can be advantages in using FB advertising to recruit, and there can be advantages in using panels. 


Overall, the quality of participants in a research project depends on the recruiter, rather than the source of the recruits. Then the level of engagement by those participants depends on the moderator, the incentive, the discussion guide and other factors. 

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