Needles in a Haystack: Strategies for Recruiting Marginalized or Hard-to-Reach Populations

Session Number: 2260
Track: Collaborative, Participatory & Empowerment Evaluation
Session Type: Panel
Tags: "hard to reach" populations, Focus Groups, Recruiting study participants
Session Chair: Michael Long [Principal - ICF International]
Discussant: Helene Jennings [ICF International]
Presenter 1: Michael Long [Principal - ICF International]
Presenter 2: Andrew MacDonald [Associate - ICF International]
Presenter 3: Ashani Johnson-Turbes [ICF International]
Presenter 4: Ashani Johnson-Turbes [ICF International]
Time: Oct 27, 2016 (03:00 PM - 04:30 PM)
Room: International North C

Abstract 1 Title: What makes a population hard to reach?
Presentation Abstract 1:

In the first presentation, we will lay the groundwork for the discussion by describing weaknesses in traditional recruitment methods, and the reasons that these methods can lead to the underrepresentation of certain types of participants an in evaluation study. The presenter will then offer a taxonomy of different types of marginalized or “hard-to-reach” populations that ICF has developed based on its work in this area. For example, some audiences might be difficult to recruit because of their low incidence in the population, while others (such as undocumented immigrants) might be reluctant to identify themselves for evaluation efforts. As a result, there is no “one size fits all” approach to recruitment; evaluators need a toolkit of approaches that they can tailor as appropriate for the population they are working with.

Abstract 2 Title: Working with community-based organizations
Presentation Abstract 2:

One approach that can be very effective for recruiting hard-to-reach populations is to partner with community-based organizations, such as local non-profits, churches, or senior centers. These organizations have often earned credibility in their communities through years of providing services, and can serve as a bridge between external evaluators and the population they are trying to reach. We have used these partnerships successfully in a variety of contexts, particularly when conducting studies in remote sites. Drawing on our recent experience conducting an evaluation of the financial attitudes and practices of low-income Americans, we will share practical tips for identifying and recruiting local partners, setting up agreements and expectations, and finding ways to provide compensation to organizations.

Abstract 3 Title: Using local site recruiters
Presentation Abstract 3:

Often, evaluators find themselves in situations where they do not have a relationship with community organizations, or where those organizations are unable or unwilling to assist with recruitment. In these cases, a useful strategy is to work through a local site recruiter—an individual with connections within the community of interest who can serve as a proxy for the evaluator during the recruitment process. Often, local site recruiters live and work in the community of interest, and have a deep understanding of the needs and interests of the population. In this presentation we will discuss the characteristics of an ideal local site recruiter, and provide advice for how to best manage that relationship. We will also discuss how to monitor the progress of recruitment remotely, and how to address potential problems as they arise.

Abstract 4 Title: Using online tools and social media to recruit populations
Presentation Abstract 4:

Another recruitment approach that we have successfully implemented is the use of social media to communicate with hard-to-reach audiences. This strategy can be particularly effective with low-income, minority, and youth populations, all of which (according to recent data from the Pew Research Center) use smartphones at a rate higher than the general population. In this presentation we will discuss how to identify the social media channels that are most appropriate for a specific audience (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat), how to craft an effective recruitment message, and how to implement a recruitment effort that will have the greatest possible reach within a specific hard-to-reach population. We will also describe potential pitfalls that evaluators can face when using online tools and social media, and will share best practices and lessons learned from our recent work recruiting young adults and youth for focus groups, triads, and cognitive interviews.

Audience Level: All Audiences

Session Abstract: 

Evaluators frequently seek to learn about the lives of low-income or marginalized populations, such as undocumented immigrants or people of different ethnic backgrounds. However, these populations are often difficult to recruit for participation in studies, leaving evaluators at risk of producing findings that are not fully representative or leave out important perspectives. In this panel, we will provide concrete strategies for how to recruit potentially marginalized or hard-to-reach populations. We will start by defining different reasons that populations can be difficult to recruit, and describing real-world challenges that evaluators can face. We will then describe three different strategies for addressing these challenges: (1) partnering with community-based organizations, (2) engaging local site recruiters, and (3) employing social media. Panel members will describe the situations in which each strategy is most likely to be effective, and use real world examples from our work to illustrate potential obstacles and how to overcome them.