How will you recruit your participants?
There are many methods, including, but by no means limited to, mail outs, emailing, telephoning, advertisement, recruitment through a third party (e.g. employer, doctor), and recruitment carried out by researchers. All of these access contact information through a variety of sources including, but again not limited to, contact details obtained from public documents (e.g. phone book), contact details obtained from private sources (e.g. employee list, membership database), participants from a previous study, snowballing (where participants suggest other potential participants), and personal contacts. What you choose to do depends on the sort of participants you are seeking to recruit, the research methodologies you are employing, and the accepted practices of your academic discipline. These are decisions that you will make in consultation with the applicable research literature, and your supervisor if you are a student or your peers if you are an experienced researcher.
From an ethical perspective, the most important thing is that the recruitment methods are appropriate for the participants you are seeking. Some of the things that will ensure this are:
The main ways in which recruitment methods may reduce or constrain voluntariness are by offering inappropriate levels of inducement for the people being approached and by having undue levels of coercion.
Inducement may be any form of benefit for the participants that entices or persuades them to participate in a research project in which they would not otherwise have wished to take part.This is different to a benefit that gives participants an incentive to actually do something now that they wished to do anyway.
Coercion is any form of pressure or persuasion, real or perceived, that constrains a participant's ability to say no.
Adequate voluntariness also means that refusal to participate will attract no sanction, and that participants will not be required to give reasons for refusal. It also means that if people agree to participate in the study, they are free to leave the study at any time without being required to give reasons for leaving.
Your recruitment methods need to be designed to ensure that potential participants have adequate information about the research in order to consent to participating in it. Potential particpants also need adequate time to consider this information and opportunities to ask questions about matters of which they are not sure. They also need to know who to contact with any enquiries that they may have.
It may seem obvious to say it, but sufficient information also means that the information provided is truthful.
Appropriate conflict of interest management
Researchers frequently have other professional or personal relationships with the people whom they are recruiting. When this occurs, researchers need to be very careful that the two roles are kept separate. This is especially important when the other role means that the relationship cannot be one between people who have equal levels of power. A common example of this in a University setting is when lecturers invite their students to participate.
Wherever possible, it is best to invite participants from groups with which the researcher has no direct relationship. When this is not possible, then it is important to ensure that the recruitment and consent processes are managed by someone else who is independent. In these situations, it is also necessary to stress the voluntariness of participation and to make it clear that refusal to participate will not affect the other relationship in any way.
When trying to persuade potential participants to take part in research, researchers may be tempted to downplay unpleasant aspects or consequences, overstate the likely importance of the findings, or eclude advice about aspects that may discourage participation. Ethical recruitment avoids these temptations, without dissuading potential participants.People who are undertaking research should not be suprised by what the researcher asks them to do nor by the sort and level of the outcomes of the findings.
Social and cultural appropriateness
We live in a culturally and socially diverse community and when recruiting participants, this needs to be taken into account. There is no effective substitute for consulting with the sorts of people that researchers would like to recruit and finding out what works and doesn't work for them. Researchers need to be aware that cultural differences can mean for example that a recruitment approach that the researcher considers to be normal and straight forward is perceived as coercive or threatening. It is better to have ascertained this before recruitment commences.
Respect for privacy
The main way in which people's privacy and confidentiality needs to be respected when recruiting participants is by respecting privacy legislation and professional relationships when accessing people's contact details. Basically, any contact information that is gained from a source that is in the public domain is able to be used, provided that there are no stated restrictions on their use.(Websites that require logins are not considered to be in the public domain).
When obtaining contact information from a third party or some other source that is not in the public domain, then two key considerations need to be met. Firstly, people need to have agreed to the third party sharing their contact details with researchers when they supplied the information. Secondly, the researcher needs to have the approval of the third party to use their lists of contacts. These restrictions also apply to the use of contact details from earlier studies and to snowballing. Researchers should note that AUT class lists may not be used for research recruitment purposes.
If you have any doubt or questions about ethical issues in relation to recruiting participants, please contact either the Research Ethics Advisor or your AUTEC Faculty representative for advice.