Enhancing Participants’ Experience Together

For too long, the experience of research participants has been overlooked. At L&E we are determined to give participants’ a voice, beyond the single research project. Together with our research partners, we conducted a study to understand what motivates people to not only sign up, but to continue to engage in research, and what pain points drive them from continuing to stay engaged in the research process.

This new blog series is an extension of our popular webinar “Consider the Consumer: Creating a Better Member Experience to Increase Qualitative Community Health.” It’s aimed at bringing our findings to life, and to be a wake-up call for the qualitative research industry; recognizing that while we do our best to elevate how participants are treated, the broader industry perception will continue to suffer unless other panel providers also commit to these changes. So, here’s our challenge to all providers to take bold steps in revamping their processes, ensuring that research participants are engaged, enhancing the quality of data and the reputation of our industry.

Before we dive deep into the findings, let’s start by setting the scene…

Why it’s important to understand participants?

Research participants are the lifeblood of qualitative research. Their opinions and insights drive the decisions that shape our products, services, and strategies across a plethora of advanced industries. However, the participant experience often leaves much to be desired. Lengthy screeners, low qualification rates, and a lack of transparency lead to frustration and disengagement, ultimately compromising the most important thing, data quality.
So, with our research we want to explore strategies to increase retention and reduce attrition by creating a better member experience within qualitative panels. Our hypothesis is that a better member experience increases engagement and retention leading to higher data quality.

Rules of Engagement

The relationship between panel size, incidence rate, and response or engagement rates is crucial for the success of the research. Engagement rate is measured over time, while response rate is specific to individual projects. Incidence refers to the proportion of respondents who meet study criteria. A large member base is vital for accessing diverse and niche segments, but as response rates decline due to survey fatigue and other factors, more invitations are required, perpetuating a cycle of low response and incidence rates. This affects research efficiency, cost, and data quality. To address this, rethinking panel engagement strategies is necessary, especially for low-incidence populations.

A new strategy for improved response rate

An average survey response rate for qualitative research can vary widely, typically ranging from 5% to 30%. At L&E, we’ve tracked our engagement rates, defined by the frequency with which our members interact with the L&E opinion site and complete screeners to qualify for studies. In 2018, our engagement rates were around 16%. After conducting in-house research and implementing member feedback, we saw an increase to about 23% in 2019. During the COVID-19 pandemic, engagement rates spiked to nearly 50%, stabilizing at 34% for 2020. As life returned to normal, engagement rates readjusted to about 17% in 2022 and then to 15% in 2023. These fluctuations highlighted the need for a new strategy post-COVID.

What influences response rate?

Several variables can cause response rates to be lower in qualitative research. One major factor is the incentive offered to participants. If the incentive is too low, especially for in-person research requiring travel, respondents may feel that the compensation does not adequately cover their time and expenses, such as traffic or gas. Additionally, the requirements for participation, such as completing homework, pre-work, or product testing surveys, can become burdensome. Transparency about these obligations is crucial.
Other factors that affect response rates include the specificity and sensitivity of the topic. When study descriptions are vague or when respondents are not given enough information, they may be less inclined to participate due to a lack of buy-in. Topics that are too sensitive or not of personal interest can also deter participation. For example, a vegan is unlikely to engage in a screener for a dairy product study. Screener fatigue is another significant issue; if respondents repeatedly attempt to qualify for studies without success, they may become disheartened and take a break from market research. To address these challenges, we are conducting in-depth research with our panel to better understand the factors influencing engagement and to refine our strategies accordingly.

Ready to learn more about participants’ motivations, legitimacy and credibility? Stay tuned for our next blog. In the meantime, check-out our webinar and hear directly from our experts.