From the desk of Natanya Rubin
How much should we pay respondents to participate in a qualitative research study? Answering that question is more of an art than a science. Incentives provide both motivation for respondents to follow through on their commitment to the research, as well as compensation for their time and effort.
While there is a basic formula that recruiters use to estimate respondent incentives, there are four key considerations that influence the recommended amount:
- The “time and inconvenience” factor: Is it a 15-minute telephone interview? A two-hour focus group at a facility that is a 20-minute drive away? A series of activities over an extended period?
- The difficulty of the recruit: Does virtually anyone qualify? Or are we looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack?
- The time of day. Are you asking stay-at-home parents with school aged children to participate in research at 3 PM? Are you asking full-time professionals to participate in research during business hours?
- The market where the research is going to be conducted: Is the research being conducted in coastal urban markets or in small Midwestern towns or rural markets?
The time and inconvenience factor assumes there is a basic cost to get people “out the door,” whether that involves logging onto a website, dialing into a webcam group or interview, or driving to a facility. After that the other consideration is whether we are asking for a one-time commitment, or a commitment over time. A one-time commitment might involve visiting a store to complete a diary exercise; or, driving to a focus group facility for a 90-minute focus group. A commitment over time might involve asking a respondent to shop and prepare a specific food item, or to keep a diary of their workflow or food consumption for an extended period. An incentive for an over-time commitment factors in the actual hours it will take for respondents’ to complete the tasks, but it also factors in a dollar amount that will keep them engaged and participating for the days, weeks, or months that are required.
The difficulty of the recruit comes into play when it is necessary to talk to a highly trained or very specific, low incidence target market. If there are a limited number of possible respondents, when recruiters find them they want incentives to be higher than average so the qualified person is more likely to agree to participate. In this case, increasing the participation rate reduces the number of recruiting hours needed to successfully complete the project.
Don’t underestimate the importance of time of day when determining incentives. If you need stay-at-home parents to participate in a group or interview at 3 PM, just when the children are coming home from school, you are going to have to factor in the possibility that they will need to hire a babysitter. If you are asking full-time professionals to participate in research during business hours, they will need to be compensated enough to make up for missing work.
Finally, the market where the research is going to be conducted can directly impact incentives. Large urban markets command higher incentives than small town or rural markets where parking is free, and the cost of living is lower.
One other time when incentives are adjusted is in the moment, if weather is expected to impact show rates. When it’s raining hard, or a snowstorm is expected, people are more likely to cancel. To make the trip in inclement weather worth their while, we may increase incentives at the last minute, or offer a bonus for people who show up on time.
So when determining incentives, remember that there is not a “one size fits all” answer. The real answer is “it depends!”