If you believe that designing an effective user experience requires involving users throughout the design process, then you must admit that finding and recruiting participants for user research and usability testing is the most crucial step. After all, if you can’t get participants, you can’t do research or usability testing. A recent, difficult recruiting effort left me ruminating about what it is that makes recruiting either easy or difficult. Is there something like an equation that can account for the ease or difficulty of recruiting participants? Yes, there is: RE = ((K + S) x RM) x ((C+A) x PM) Recruiting Ease = ((Knowledge + Skills) x Recruiter Motivation) x ((Connection + Access) x Participant Motivation) Okay, I just kind of made that up, but I think it’s a good way to visualize the various factors that influence how easy or difficult it will be to recruit participants. Let’s look at the components of the formula in more detail.
The first part of the equation involves attributes of the recruiter: Recruiting Ease = ((Knowledge + Skills) x Recruiter Motivation) x ((Connection + Access) x Participant Motivation) By recruiter, I mean whoever is doing the recruiting. It could be you, a recruiting company, your client, a salesperson, or someone else. Ideally, the researcher would also recruit the participants, because that person knows the most about who to recruit. But sometimes you have to rely on other people to do the recruiting, usually because they have a better connection to participants.
Recruiting Ease = ((Knowledge + Skills) x Recruiter Motivation) x ((Connection + Access) x Participant Motivation) The first factor is the recruiter’s knowledge of the research and the type of people to recruit.
- Does the recruiter know the characteristics of the people that are desired? Can the recruiter identify people who match those characteristics?
- How well can the recruiter describe the research to the participants?
Without this knowledge, recruiters may select the wrong types of people or give them the wrong impression about the research. If you’re not doing the recruiting, it’s important to give the recruiter a clear definition of the types of people you’re looking for and a simple description of the research that they can use when contacting participants.
Recruiting Ease = ((Knowledge + Skills) x Recruiter Motivation) x ((Connection + Access) x Participant Motivation) Effective recruiting also depends on the recruiter’s interpersonal, communication, and organizational skills.
- Is the recruiter personable and persuasive enough to convince people to participate?
- Can the recruiter clearly and concisely communicate with the participants?
- Is the researcher organized and coordinated enough to contact, schedule, and keep track of many participants?
Ensure that the person doing the recruiting has these skills. If not, have them delegate this task to someone who does. Administrative assistants often excel at recruiting because they are already well versed in communicating and coordinating schedules.
Recruiting Ease = ((Knowledge + Skills) x Recruiter Motivation) x ((Connection + Access) x Participant Motivation) When finding participants becomes difficult, recruiter motivation is the most important criteria.
- How much does the recruiter care about finding participants?
- Will there be positive or negative consequences for the recruiter if participants are found or not found?
If you’re doing the research and the recruiting, you’re usually highly motivated to find participants, but when you have to rely on someone else, try to make sure that person has a stake in the recruiting. The negative consequences of not finding participants and derailing the project are highly motivating. Once a project starts and dates are set, there’s a ticking clock counting down the days to the research sessions. Delays in finding participants will delay the project.
With deadlines looming and money on the line, there’s a lot of pressure for whoever’s responsible to find participants. You can bet that most of the time, it gets done. Professional recruiting companies have a financial motivation to find participants, since they get paid a certain amount for each participant they recruit. However, if the recruiting turns out to be more difficult than they expected, they will begin to lose money as they spend more time finding each participant. When that happens, they’ll usually try to get you to loosen up the recruiting requirements to make it easier to find people, or they may say that they’ve exhausted their efforts and give up.
The second part of the equation involves the recruiter’s relationship to the participants: Recruiting Ease = ((Knowledge + Skills) x Recruiter Motivation) x ((Connection + Access) x Participant Motivation)
Recruiting Ease = ((Knowledge + Skills) x Recruiter Motivation) x ((Connection + Access) x Participant Motivation) When people have a connection with the recruiter, they’re more likely to agree to participate. The strength of a connection can take various forms:
- The participant may know the recruiter personally.
- The participant may share a common affiliation with the recruiter. For example, they may be fellow employees or members of the same organization.
- The participant may have an affiliation with an organization that the recruiter represents. For example, they may be a customer of the company the recruiter represents.
An email or phone call to participate in a study, often raises the questions about whether it’s legitimate, whether it’s worth considering, and whether it’s worth the time to participate. The closer the connection the person has with the recruiter, the more likely they will take the time to consider the request. Unless you already have this relationship, you might have someone else, who the potential participants know, do the recruiting. They’re more likely to listen to, consider, and respond to someone they know rather than a complete stranger.
Recruiting Ease = ((Knowledge + Skills) x Recruiter Motivation) x ((Connection + Access) x Participant Motivation) When you have access to lists of potential participants (such as employees, organization members, or customers) it’s much easier to recruit participants, especially when those lists contain characteristics that you can use to filter and narrow down those lists to the right types of people. It’s very difficult when you and your client have no access to the types of people you need. That’s when it makes sense to use a recruiting company.
Recruiting Ease = ((Knowledge + Skills) x Recruiter Motivation) x ((Connection + Access) x Participant Motivation) Once they’ve been contacted and have considered the pitch, motivation determines whether a person will volunteer to participate. We can look at participant motivation as its own sub-equation: PM = A – D Participant Motivation = Advantages of participating – Disadvantages of participating To make it worth participating, the advantages have to be greater than the disadvantages. A > D = Participate A < D = Decline The advantages of participating can include things like:
- Incentives – A $150 check, $50 Starbucks gift card, free software, etc.
- Personal benefit from the improvements that come out of research – They’re going to improve this horrible software that I have to use every day at work!
- Feelings of altruism
- Feeling good about having your ideas heard and being able to improve something
- Novelty of doing something different and interesting
- Getting praise for participating and avoiding getting in trouble for not helping out
The disadvantages of participating can include things like:
- The difficulty and effort it takes to participate
- The time it takes to participate
- Discomfort, anxiety, and fear of the unknown
Add it Up
Actually, something this complex can’t be distilled into an easy formula, but I think this equation provides a good visualization of the important factors. The quality and motivation of the recruiter, combined with the ease of finding participants, and the way people perceive the benefits they’ll receive versus the hassles they’ll have to go through, determines how easy or difficult it will be to recruit participants.
Recruiting Ease = ((Knowledge + Skills) x Recruiter Motivation) x ((Connection + Access) x Participant Motivation)
Mathematics image courtesy of Tom Brown