The challenge of recruiting families for research

Recruiting families for research:

It’s not easy finding families that are willing to participate in my research project. Only a very small percentage put their hand up to take part – and not all of those that want to be involved fit my selection criteria (with kids 12-17 years). One family that identified themselves as a step-family with an 18-year-old step-daughter was keen on sharing their experience. Another two-parent family with 14, 18 and 19-year-old kids all living at home, with their kids allegedly surgically attached to their laptops, have also responded to my recruiting call – but they are just outside of my desired parameters!

 It would be nice if I could recruit families within my wish list, but I think I will need to be flexible and extend my criteria upwards to accept the older teens (as it will be more difficult to get ethics approval to accept kids at the lower end – below 12 years of age). Then there is the problem of geographical distance. I have 2 other willing families that live 50 kms away from where I live – which takes the study out of the inner-Melbourne region (in terms of keeping the sample contained) and the logistics of getting to and from the household with ease is problematic. Perhaps it might be worth staying at these families’ houses for a week as a way of fully immersing myself in their everyday lives (this would need to be approved by them, of course).

How to recruit?

In the first instance I have contacted friends via email with information about my research, so that they can send it to the friends that they think might be interested in participating. So far I have received three responses from my friends alerting me to their actions (that they passed on the details)! Of those leads I have had two families offer their potential participation. So it seems my own friends have not provided the deluge of family participants I was hoping for!

 Then I decided to access some of the networks I belong to at RMIT University. A lot of my colleagues do not necessarily have children in the age range that I require, or friends with children 12 to 17 years! Of those that do, one actually offered me up names of people to follow-up without first introducing these families to me or my research project. This was akin to cold calling, and the referral process is an important aspect that helps the family be more open to the idea of at least listening to the research proposal. The connecting referral is critical in making the link between me and the research family. In another university network, a colleague put out an email to some of their friends, to which one responded immediately! I made contact with the mother of the family, spoke about the nature of the project, and she has agreed (on behalf of her family) to participate.

I have also tried to use Facebook to recruit some families – accessing some of the friends of friends’ networks. A few weeks ago I instant messaged a friend of a friend via Facebook. She is a sole parent with two teenage children. When I asked if she might be interested in participating in my research with a very brief outline, she said she would be happy to participate. After a little bit of ‘telephone tag’ I noticed that she was online on Facebook, and I took the opportunity to ‘instant message’ her to make contact. I was able to call her (on a landline telephone) to discuss her family’s potential participation. It turned out that she was fine with me interviewing her, but was uncomfortable about me participant-observing her family. After explaining that the observations were not clinical in nature, although they might feel intrusive, but would be negotiated and controlled by her, she declined. I was welcome to speak with her, and her kids (if they were willing) about their technology use, but she did not want her family to be part of my research. Which of course is absolutely fine. All families have the option of declining, or, if they do agree to be part of the research, they can quit at any time.

 Would I participate if I was asked?

This got me thinking: how willing would I be to have my family investigated by a relatively unknown researcher? If I knew the person that was referring the researcher, then I would certainly be more receptive to the idea. But that in itself would not be enough to for me to agree. I would need to be interested in the actual research topic. In this case though, it is not just me – I would also need to engage my family members, and given we are all intensely private individuals, this could be the biggest hurdle – gaining family members’ acquiescence! I would have to ‘pitch’ the project to my family members. I might be successful in gaining consent, but I would have to present some convincing arguments about why it would be good to participate. There is no financial or any other type of reward being offered – I would have to appeal to their own needs for improved insight into their own behaviours regarding technology and communication. Here are some other reasons that might help convince my family members to commit:

  • It might be fun.
  • We will be contributing to the completion of someone’s research.
  • We would be helping the researcher and/or university to improve knowledge in the field.
  • We might learn something! (About ourselves, about research processes, or about technology)
  • It would be a creative family project.
  • We will get to express what we think and feel about media and technologies and be listened to!
  • One day we might need to conduct research and recruit participants – there is research karma involved!
  • Because while we are being observed as a family, we can observe the researcher!
  • We’re doing it because I said so!

 These are just a few of the possibilities – perhaps you can come up with some more!

 I’d like to believe that I would be able to convince my own family to participate in a research project like my own. And these days I do find myself agreeing to partake in focus groups or online surveys, because I know the difficulties in getting people to engage in research!

It’s a slow process, and so far I am still completing my pilot study with the pilot family, and have three other families that have agreed to participate. Only eight more to go! So, if you are willing to participate, or know of families that might be interested, please feel free to pass on this information and get in touch with me.