Health disparities among people of low socioeconomic status, racial and ethnic minorities, and other vulnerable populations are of primary interest to population health researchers. However, recruiting members of these groups to participate in research projects can be challenging. When members of these groups are not present in research studies, as scientists, we can’t generate evidence on the origins of their health and health disparities, and we can’t provide applicable recommendations for health promotion and disease prevention.
At UT Austin, we recently performed a systematic literature review to identify innovative methods of recruiting vulnerable groups for research studies. Here are ten creative, successful, and peer-reviewed recruitment methods you may consider when recruiting participants.
- Hold a House Party
Consider collaborating with respected community members to throw a house or dinner party. These events can be particularly helpful in learning more about the needs of a community, spreading information about your study, or collecting data from participants. Make sure to provide adequate child care to maximize participation. (Link)
- Partner with Salons and Barbershops
Barbershops have proven to be excellent resources in educating African American men about their risk for high blood pressure and hypertension. Uniting with beauticians and barbers can also be an excellent way to recruit and retain members of your study. Barbers can introduce their clients to a research study while they wait or even when the clippers are out. (Link)
- Go Back to School
End-of-summer back-to-school nights when students meet their new teachers, or regularly scheduled parent-teacher conferences, present unique opportunities for researchers to connect with families. Get permission to set up a table in a school’s lobby during these events to engage and recruit participants. (Link)
- Science Fairs
Every year hundreds of students in many K-12 school districts compete in science fairs. Some researchers have had success presenting their research questions and goals to students in interactive school assemblies, not only to reinforce students’ learning of the scientific method but to also educate students and their families about research participation opportunities in their community. (Link)
- Dance It Out
As with churches, schools, and barbershops, finding community places to partner with that people frequent regularly can be challenging. Try connecting with Zumba and other gym instructors to make research recruitment and retention a team effort. (Link)
- Join Greek Life
Many communities have collegiate and ethnic sorority and fraternity alumni chapters constantly looking for community projects to support or volunteer with. Building these relationships can be time intensive, but having concrete goals for your project’s intended community impact is always a great conversation starter. (Link)
- Make Check-Ins Competitive
Set up a check-in booth at a church or community center to encourage study recruitment and retention. Studies have had success with digital check-in stations in these settings where participants can upload data from health, activity, and fitness trackers. You can even track check-ins and uploads with points to make the process competitive with incentives or prizes. (Link)
- Legal Aid
Refugee and undocumented residents can be hard to include as research partners, especially in areas where their legal status is highly scrutinized. Seeking out legal aid clinics as research partners can be an effective way to include these individuals in studies committed to benefiting their population. (Link)
- Create Community Jobs
Gaining the trust of a community and having community impact can be hard without community buy-in. Show you are committed to positive change by employing or offering stipends to low-income community members to work as recruitment and enrollment specialists on your project. (Link)
- Improve Your Consent Process
The informed consent process can be the ultimate turn off for individuals who are on the fence about participating in your study. Rightfully so, potential participants can become suspicious when consent forms read like formal contracts. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. Find ways to make the most important aspect of your research project informative and engaging. Use videos or photo stories to ensure individuals understand your study and to answer participation concerns. (Link)
Hopefully these recruitment strategies can help you better collaborate and interact with the communities you plan on entering. Just keep in mind that creative methods can never be a replacement for relationship building.
Need some advice on where to start? A philosophy to keep in mind in community-based research is “Nothing about us without us.” Form a committee of community stakeholders to identify and discuss the recruitment methods that are appropriate for the target population.
About the authors
Estevan Delgado is completing his graduate studies at The LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. Estevan has worked on recruitment strategies for UT Austin and Baylor College of Medicine, and holds a bachelor’s degree from Rice University.