University of Wisconsin–Madison

Field Notes: Recruiting in the Community

Recruiting research participants in the community

So, you’ve developed a recruitment flyer for your study, you have the names of several area libraries, community centers and a few groceries stores known to have bulletin boards. All you need to do now is post those flyers, sit back and let the participants roll in, right?

Well, if you are reading this, you probably know the answer is sadly “No, not right!” Whether you are recruiting people as study participants or to join a stakeholder advisory board, flyers alone just don’t get the job done.

Here is the bottom line learned from my own experience as a study recruiter and from literally dozens and dozens of hours spent discussing recruitment strategies and materials with our Community Advisors on Research Design and Strategies (CARDS)®.

  • Least effective: In every discussion we’ve had with the CARDS about recruitment, relying on a flyer ranks as about the least effective recruitment strategy.
  • Most effective: The CARDS consistently say the most effective strategy is to partner with the right staff at Community Centers and let those trusted people personally recruit participants.

So, how do you find the “right” staff person? What does it mean to “partner”? Here are some tips and key success factors:

  1. Ask WINRS for help! We’ve been working in local community centers for years and have lots of personal contacts. Let us help you identify and connect with the most appropriate staff people.
  2. Prepare a very plain language, short presentation with a clear “ask” (no more than 5 minutes, TOPS!), including:
    • What is the primary goal of your study? (What do you hope will be better as a result?)
    • Who do you want to recruit? How many people?
    • What do you want these people to do as part of your study?
  3. Provide clear recruitment talking points and/or a recruitment flyer or brochure
    • This will be most successful if you have had the CARDS (or another patient/community advisory group) review your materials in advance, so you know they are patient-friendly and appropriate for your target population.
  4. Present several options for how you can pay or compensate the community center and/or staff person for their help. NEVER ask for help without offering something concrete in return!
  5. Follow up with thank you notes (regardless of whether the staff actually help you).

If you plan to recruit in the community, we hope these field notes will save you both time and trouble!