Last week, Dr. Rowe and I visited Portland Art Museum to help assist with a recruitment push for participants in their Conversations About Art evaluation and I noticed all of the education staff involved have very different styles of how they recruited visitors to participate in the project. Styles ranged from the apologetic (e.g. “do you mind if I interrupt you to help us”), to incentive-focused (e.g. “get free tickets!) to experiential (e.g. “participating will be fun and informative!”)
This got me thinking a lot about the significance of people skills and a researcher’s recruitment style in educational studies this week. How does the style in which you get participants involved influence a) how many participants you actually recruit, and b) the quality of the participation (i.e. do they just go through the motions to get the freebie incentive?) Thinking back to prior studies of FCL alum here from OSU, I realized that nearly all the researchers I knew had a different approach to recruitment, be it in person, on the phone or via email, and that in fact it is a learned skill that we don’t often talk too much about.
I’ve been grateful for my success at recruiting both docents and visitors for my research on docent-visitor interactions, which is mostly the result of taking the “help a graduate student complete their research” approach – one that I borrowed from interacting with prior Marine Resource Management colleagues of mine, Abby Nickels and Alicia Christensen during their masters research on marine education activities. Such an approach won’t be much help in the future once I finally get out of grad school, so the question to consider is what factors make for successful participant recruitment? It seems the common denominator is people skills, and by people skills I mean the ability to engage a potential recruit on a level that removes skepticism around being commandeered off the street. You have to be not only trustworthy, but also approachable. I’ve definitely noticed with my own work that on off days where I’m tired and have trouble maintaining a smiley face for long periods of time at the HMSC entrance, recruitment seems harder. All those younger years spent in customer service jobs and learning how to deal with the public in general seem so much more worthwhile!
So fellow researchers and evaluators, my question for you is what are your strategies for recruiting participants? Do you agree people skills are an important underlying factor? Do you over/under estimate your own personal influence on participant recruitment?