Frequently Asked Questions on Increasing  Participant Engagement in Research Studies - Vibrent
Blog | August 04, 2023

Frequently Asked Questions on Increasing  Participant Engagement in Research Studies

Finding ways to engage your target populations in your studies is important because engaged participants are more likely to continue in a longitudinal study and thus to provide you with more data. 

Improving participant engagement is all about adopting best practices and more efficient technology and processes. In this FAQ, we will seek to address some of these best practices and digital methods to ensure you and your research team are taking advantage of tested approaches to increasing participant engagement in your research studies.  

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How can I improve the recruitment process to consent more participants into my research study? 

Attracting more participants requires using a multi-channel approach to find the right participants and communicate in a way that these populations understand and can appreciate. 

Relying on only in-person recruitment or flyers will greatly reduce your study’s ability to consent enough participants. Beyond these traditional methods, you will need to add digital channels and methods to your plan. 

Using ads and regular social media posts targeted to the demographics you want to recruit is key to finding the right audience using digital methods. Secondly, utilizing a community approach will help you to reach specific demographics as well as building a more personal rapport between research institutions/team members and potential participants. Find community organizations and events you can collaborate with to tap into their networks and to engage more directly with your target populations. 

It’s also extremely important when writing messages to attract participants to think like the populations you want to recruit. Use messages that resonate with your participants. For instance, older generations may respond well to the benefit of contributing to the health of future generations. Minority populations who have a strong sense of community may respond well to the idea that they are contributing to the health of their race/ethnicity and thus helping to preserve their culture. For that matter, it is also important to reach out to the communities that you wish to engage for your studies. 

Lastly, in addition to using social media, it’s important to leverage other digital tools that can help to market your study to potential participants. Tools like study websites are incredibly helpful in explaining how studies work. Recruitment video can be a powerful tool for the recruitment and consent process. Working with experts in developing these kinds of digital media can help you to scale your recruitment more quickly and easily. 

In summary, to recruit more participants for a study: 

  • Use targeted advertising and social media to reach your intended audience. 
  • Collaborate with community organizations or institutions to tap into their networks. 
  • Clearly communicate the benefits and significance of the study to potential participants. 
  • Leverage other digital tools like study websites and video to easily explain your study. 

What are some effective strategies to retain participants throughout the entire duration of the study? 

Retention strategies hinge especially on maintaining open and transparent communication with participants. This is especially true in long-term studies that may include a genomics element. It’s important to provide regular updates on the study progress and its outcomes. This may entail providing return of information regarding the participant or the study in general. Of particular importance in your communication is to give participants choices in terms of the mediums in which you communicate such as SMS, email, newsletters, phone calls, etc. Providing participants the opportunity to indicate how they want to be contacted can help to give them the power to communicate the way they want to with the study team. It may also be important to include a community element or involve family members in your study to encourage ongoing participation. 

Additionally, you can encourage participants to continue the study by emphasizing the impact of their participation. You can also retain participants by offering incentives or rewards for their continued participation. This could look like offering gift cards when participants complete important study milestones.  

To sum it up, to retain participants through the end of your study: 

  • Provide regular updates on the study progress and outcomes. 
  • Give participants valuable return of results or return of information. 
  • Communicate using mediums that participants prefer. 
  • Utilize community and family involvement to help remind participants. 
  • Offer incentives or rewards for continued participation. 
  • Maintain open and transparent communication channels with participants. 

How do I create a participant-friendly informed consent process that encourages more individuals to participate? 

Essentially, implementing informed consent in your study requires you to make it easy for participants to understand and retain information about your study and how it may affect them. This allows you to build ample trust with your participants early in the study.  

 Be sure to use clear and simple language in your informed consent documents. Use video, infographics, and forms of interactive multimedia like knowledge checks to help participants to easily learn about your study and demonstrate their understanding. Additionally, give your participants ample time to review the information to make their decision. 

This is why electronic consent can be a great tool to encourage participation in your study, because it allows for participants to review consent documents on their time and to access them digitally for further review. If you’re looking to implement eConsent, we recommend working with a digital consent provider who can help you navigate regulations and various technological and ethical considerations when submitting materials to your IRB.  

To encourage participation in your study through your informed consent, be sure to: 

  • Use clear and simple language in your informed consent documents. 
  • Consider presenting information in alternative formats (e.g., videos, infographics). 
  • Allow participants sufficient time to review the information and make their decision. 
  • Work with an eConsent solution provider that helps you navigate ethical, legal, and technological complexity easily. 

What are some creative and engaging ways to present study information and instructions to participants? 

Study teams need to consider adapting modern digital approaches that most potential participants are used to seeing in their everyday lives. Video content, interactive online modules like knowledge checks, explanatory graphics and clear, concise writing resonates with potential participants and helps them better understand your study. Gamification elements showing progress and achievement of study milestones helps keep things transparent and can motivate participants to carry forward with study activities like filling out surveys. When it comes to writing, utilize storytelling techniques, testimonials, as well as words and phrasing that prospects can relate to when they’re deciding to participate or not. 

So when finding creative and engaging ways to present study information and instructions to participants, you can: 

  • Use multimedia content, such as videos or interactive online modules. 
  • Employ gamification elements to make the process enjoyable and interactive. 
  • Utilize storytelling techniques to make the study purpose relatable. 

Are there specific incentives or rewards that have been shown to increase participant engagement without compromising the integrity of the study? 

Yes, there are specific incentives or rewards that have been shown to increase participant engagement in studies without compromising study integrity. These incentives are carefully designed to encourage participation while minimizing potential biases or undue influence on participants. Here are some examples: 

  • Financial Compensation: Providing fair monetary compensation for participants’ time and effort is a common incentive. It ensures that participants are appropriately compensated for their contribution without creating undue pressure to influence their responses. 
  • Gift Cards or Vouchers: Offering gift cards or vouchers for popular stores or online platforms can be an effective way to incentivize participation. This provides participants with the freedom to choose something they like without introducing bias. 
  • Donations to Charity: Instead of providing direct compensation to participants, some studies offer to make a donation to a charity of the participants’ choice. This approach can appeal to participants who are motivated by altruism. 
  • Access to Study Findings: Offering participants access to study results or a summary of findings can be a powerful incentive. People often appreciate being informed about the outcomes of research they contributed to. 
  • Personalized Feedback: Providing individualized feedback or insights to participants based on their responses can be a compelling incentive, especially in studies related to self-assessment or personal development. 
  • Entry into a Raffle or Prize Draw: Entering participants into a raffle or prize draw for valuable items (e.g., electronic gadgets) can motivate them to participate without directly influencing their responses. 
  • Participation Badges or Certificates: Issuing digital badges or certificates to acknowledge participants’ involvement and contribution can be rewarding, particularly in online studies. 
  • Public Recognition: With participants’ consent, researchers can acknowledge their contributions publicly, such as on a study’s website or in research publications. This recognition can be gratifying for some participants. 
  • Return of Genetic Results: Knowledge is power. In studies that require genomics or other testing, its especially beneficial for participants to gain insights into their health, their genetics, or their family genetic history. Results don’t necessarily have to be actionable for participants.

It’s crucial to strike a balance between motivating participation and ensuring the integrity of the study. Researchers must be transparent about the incentives provided and avoid offering rewards that could lead to biased or untruthful responses. Lastly, it’s important to gain approval from your institutional review board (IRB) as to what type of incentives you plan to use. 

How can I ensure that my research study is culturally sensitive and inclusive to encourage participation from diverse populations? 

If you want to encourage participation from diverse populations, cultural sensitivity is important. You can involve representatives from the target populations you wish to recruit in your study design process to ensure they agree with various elements of the study. You can also consider translating study materials into relevant languages if necessary. And lastly, it’s important to understand different cultural norms and traditions as it relates to your research. Incorporating that understanding is key to your research study recruiting and retaining a culturally, ethnically, and racially diverse population. 

To ensure your research study encourages participation from diverse populations: 

  • Involve representatives from the target populations in the study design process. 
  • Translate study materials into relevant languages if needed. 
  • Respect cultural norms and traditions throughout the research process. 

What role does communication play in maintaining participant engagement, and what are some best practices for maintaining regular contact with participants? 

It’s important to maintain regular communication, especially in long-term studies, to keep participants informed and engaged. Using regular touchpoints of communication helps to remind study participants of their role in the study and can remind them therefore to keep up with their participation. It is highly encouraged to use a mix of communication channels, or to give participants the ability to indicate communication preferences so that you can reach out to them using email, SMS, phone calls, newsletters or in other ways that meet participants where they’re at.  

To engage participants over the course of a study, particularly a long one, be sure to: 

  • Regular communication to help keep participants informed and engaged. 
  • Use a mix of communication channels (e.g., emails, phone calls, newsletters). 
  • Provide updates on study progress and express appreciation for their participation. 

Are there any technologies or digital tools that have proven effective in enhancing participant engagement in research studies? 

Digital tools and technologies can increase participation by allowing for more convenience and accessibility as well as serving as an empowering and connecting experience. For example, online communities or discussion boards where participants can interact and share experiences fosters connection and community support. Mobile apps help to make the completion of study-related activities easier, and can help remind participants to complete surveys and other forms. Virtual meetings or webinars can increase engagement by speaking to the management of a condition or another relevant topic. Feedback sessions or other interactive events can encourage participants to let study teams know about their experiences with different aspects of the study. This can encourage a two-way communication between researchers and the people they study to increase the quality of studies and ultimately the quality of the data. 

Having study websites that help recruit participants and have easy-to-remember domain names are instrumental in recruiting and keeping participants involved in your study. Study portals can be used in place of, or in tandem with mobile applications so that participants can easily access study materials, fill out surveys, and easily obtain return of results. Online study portals and apps can also give participants more control over how they receive communication, and gives them the ability to connect wearable devices as well as their electronic health records to the study, thus prov 

Some technologies or digital tools that are effective in creating participant engagement in studies are: 

  • Online forums or discussion boards for participants to interact and share experiences. 
  • Mobile apps for study-related tasks and reminders. 
  • Virtual meetings or webinars for engagement and feedback sessions. 
  • Study portals for easy access to surveys, study materials, and return of results. 

How do I address potential barriers to participation and engagement that participants may face during the course of the study? 

Participation in studies has many aspects that researchers don’t even think about. It can be helpful for researchers to conduct a preliminary survey, a pilot test with a small group of participants, or interviews that could help identify potential barriers from potential participants or target study populations. Since one common barrier is time, offering flexible study schedules or locations can help accommodate participants as they navigate busy or atypical schedules. Creating study materials and engagement opportunities that are accessible to populations with disabilities are especially important. Text-to-speech, captioning for graphics and video, ensuring readability of text, accounting for text size, color, and contrast are some of many accessibility considerations. Also, if you plan to recruit many non-English speakers, translation is important to ensuring comprehension and thus quality data. 

Support and resources can also address practical challenges such as childcare, or financial and other support for particularly financially vulnerable populations to help them with transportation and other expenses. Remember that many participants find privacy concerns to be a barrier to participation. Find a way to safeguard protected health information and personally identifiable information they provide in the study and inform participants and prospects of these safeguards.  

In addition to ensuring support in face of these barriers, maintain two-way communication channels so that participants can address additional concerns as the study progresses. If you notice engagement dropping from participants, reach out to see if there’s anything you can do to understand the reasons behind it and make necessary adjustments.  

In order to address potential barriers to participation in a study, think to: 

  • Conduct a preliminary survey, a pilot test, or interviews to identify potential barriers. 
  • Offer flexible study schedules or locations to accommodate participants’ needs. 
  • Account for accessibility using standard best practices like captioning. 
  • Translate materials if a good portion of your population does not speak English well. 
  • Provide support and resources to address practical/financial challenges. 
  • Address privacy concerns early and often. 
  • Encourage two-way communication to address barriers as they become apparent. 

What are some ethical considerations when implementing strategies to increase participant engagement? 

Before you consider implementing particular ways of improving participant engagement, it’s important to obtain informed consent that ensures participants are fully aware of their rights and so you have the right to re-contact them. Secondly, when considering ways to engage, be sure to protect participant privacy and confidentiality throughout the study. Lastly, engagement comes in many forms, and it may include monitoring for any signs of participant distress and reaching out to participants to give them access to appropriate support and resources that can help.  

If you have any other concerns regarding the ethics of your study, seek the trusted guidance of your institutional review board (IRB) or a trusted technology provider who can help you navigate the ethical nuances of digital engagement. 

When implementing participant engagement strategies, consider the ethical implications by seeking to: 

  • Obtain informed consent and ensure participants are fully aware of their rights. 
  • Protect participant privacy and confidentiality throughout the study. 
  • Monitor for any signs of participant distress and provide appropriate support. 
  • Seek guidance from your IRB or from a technology provider to navigate digital ethics. 

Are there any potential risks associated with increased participant engagement, and how can they be mitigated? 

Engaging and communicating with participants carries with it certain inherent risks that can be mitigated with effective approaches. For one, you can overburden or annoy participants with excessive communication or tasks, which can stress out participants or cause them to lose interest in your study. Potential data security and privacy risks may also arise if you are using digital tools. It’s important to work with technology providers and services to ensure robust data protection measures are in place to prevent leaks of protected health information and personally identifiable information. It’s also important to identify these risks early on to your IRB along with risk mitigation measures you can take to safeguard participant data. 

Risks associated with engaging participants in studies and ways to mitigate them include: 

  • Overburdening participants with excessive communication or tasks. Find a balance between too much and too little communication. 
  • Potential data security and privacy risks if using digital tools. Ensure robust data protection measures by partnering with knowledgeable technology providers and services teams. 

What steps can I take to ensure that participants remain motivated and interested in my research objectives? 

Keeping participants motivated to continue in studies can be challenging, especially if there are demands on their time, finances, and other aspects of their lives. It may be important to find regular touchpoints of communication to remind participants of the potential impact their contribution will have on the research, and how the research can be used to help other people in the future. These touchpoints can also be used to gather feedback from participants about what needs to be done to improve their experience in the study.  

Utilizing a comprehensive digital solution for case management and in managing and contacting different lists of participants based on study milestone completion and demographics can be instrumental to maintaining contact with different participants more easily without having to email individual participants. This kind of software also gives participants more freedom in scheduling appointments and providing data such as surveys and wearable data. Digital health research software can also give participants automated reminders to complete consent forms, surveys, and other study milestones. 

To ensure that participants remain motivated and interested in your research objectives: 

  • Highlight the potential impact and relevance of the research. 
  • Recognize and acknowledge participants’ contributions regularly. 
  • Create a sense of community among participants, if possible. 
  • Seek and integrate feedback if you notice a drop in participation. 
  • Make it easy for your research team to maintain contact through a modern digital research solution. 

How can I use feedback from participants to continuously improve engagement strategies during the study? 

Finding ways to gather feedback regularly can give you ongoing insight into how to engage your participants better. Find a way to act on feedback promptly to show you care about participants and their experiences in the study. Once you implement changes, find a way to communicate these changes to participants to make sure they know you hear them. 

Adding a question to gain feedback at the end of data collection surveys could be one way to continuously make sure you are improving your study. It will also give you greater insight into how participants think, so you can create better studies in the future. If digital solutions like REDCap are serving as a roadblock to creating a better study with improved engagement, consider working with software that provides a more comprehensive, effective, user-friendly set of tools and a better experience for participants.  

If you want to use feedback to continuously improve your engagement strategies in your study, find ways to: 

  • Conduct regular feedback surveys or focus groups to gather insights. 
  • Act on participant feedback promptly to show responsiveness. 
  • Implement changes based on feedback and communicate the improvements. 
  • Add study feedback questions into your data collection surveys and procedures. 
  • Consider digital software that gives your team robust tools for improving participant experience. 

Are there differences in participant engagement based on the type of research study (e.g., qualitative vs. quantitative, clinical trials vs. surveys)? 

Your research can dictate how you engage with participants. Some study types require more tailored approaches than others. For instance, qualitative research may involve more interactive discussions, while surveys can often focus on clarity and brevity. Clinical trials will involve more in-clinic testing and may require more trust to be built from clinicians since investigational drugs could alter the course of a participant’s health indelibly. Studies with a longitudinal survey component may require more communication touchpoints to keep participants engaged over time.  

Regardless of study types, a digital software that addresses data collection and patient engagement can vastly increase the abilities of research teams to keep their studies going, recruit participants and keep them engaged to ensure adequate data size and quality.  

Things to keep in mind when considering differences in engagement strategies across different studies: 

  • Yes, different study designs may require tailored engagement approaches. 
  • Qualitative studies may involve more interactive discussions, while surveys may focus on clarity and brevity. 
  • Robust digital research software is important to improving engagement and thus data quality. 

What are some common mistakes researchers make that may hinder participant engagement, and how can I avoid them? 

Participant engagement can be tricky, but there are a few common mistakes researchers make to increase the chances of disengagement. For one, if participants aren’t given consistent, regular communication or feedback throughout the study, it’s easy for their interest to wane. Secondly, if study procedures or tasks become too complex, participants can get easily frustrated or distracted. This results in decreased compliance, or a total dropout from the study. When researchers fail to recognize and appreciate participants’ efforts, then participants may end up feeling taken for granted, which can decrease the motivation to continue or engage as fully as they could. 

Lastly, researchers often fail to acknowledge the role that technology plays in providing a good participant experience. Participants are interacting with technology all the time and expect consumer-grade digital experiences that are mobile friendly, use clear and concise phrasing, and incorporate user experience best practices. 

Common mistakes researchers make to hinder participant engagement in studies are: 

  • Lack of communication or feedback to participants during the study. 
  • Complexity in study procedures and tasks. 
  • Failing to recognize and appreciate participants’ efforts. 

How can I involve participants in the dissemination of research findings to maintain their interest and investment in the study? 

There are many ways to disseminate research findings in ways that participants find enjoyable and increases their motivation in the study activities. You can organize participant-centered dissemination events or conferences. You can share study outcomes and publications with participants directly—this includes digital methods that allow you to give participants easy access to return of results. In some cases, studies have involved participants in writing blogs or articles related to the research! 

To involve participants in the dissemination of your research findings and further motivate them: 

  • Organize participant-centered dissemination events or conferences. 
  • Share study outcomes and publications with participants directly. 
  • Involve participants in writing blogs or articles related to the research. 

What are the key considerations for creating user-friendly surveys and questionnaires to boost response rates and engagement? 

Be sure to use clear, unambiguous language in questions. Keep surveys concise and focused on relevant topics. And If you want to identify any issues or areas of improvement, pilot test the survey with a small group of potential participants or other researchers if you can. If you can, work with a services team with expertise in creating surveys and designing electronic data capture systems that capitalize on best practices in both of these areas. 

To create user-friendly surveys, always: 

  • Keep surveys concise and focused on relevant topics. 
  • Use clear and unambiguous language in questions. 
  • Pilot test the survey with a small group to identify any issues. 
  • Work with experts in survey methodology and digital survey software. 

How can I strike a balance between obtaining valuable data and respecting the time and effort of participants? 

Striking a balance between obtaining valuable data and respecting the time and effort of participants is a perennial issue in research. Structuring your data collection processes to minimize patient/participant burden and avoiding fatigue is key. This can be done by using proven digital data collection methods to minimize the amount of time participants need to be at a site for in-person appointments. Also, be sure to offer incentives that reflect the value and length of time of the participants’ efforts. 

If you want to strike a balance between obtaining valuable data from participants and respecting their time, think to: 

  • Design efficient data collection processes. 
  • Utilize proven digital methods to minimize participant burden. 
  • Offer meaningful incentives that reflect participants’ efforts. 

What are some successful examples of participant engagement strategies from other research studies that I can learn from? 

Many study teams don’t seek to understand how other studies and institutions are successfully improving their engagement from participants. There are many studies that have adopted proven strategies with the help of efficient digital methods that drastically reduce their time and effort recruiting and engaging participants. Researchers can benefit from reading existing literature and reaching out to colleagues in the field to understand ways they can increase their chances of success in engaging participants. 

Here are some case studies where institutions and study teams are utilizing best practices and efficient, comprehensive software tools that improve engagement: 

To find successful examples of patient engagement strategies: 

  • Engage with other researchers or attend conferences to learn from their experiences.
  • Read case studies and literature that details the success of various digital methods and engagement best practices.  

The effectiveness of participant engagement strategies can vary depending on the specific context and study population. However, there are many benefits to adopting best practices that have proven successful across many different studies and research contexts. The key is to connect with other researchers, and to comb literature and case studies that show the effectiveness of participant engagement strategies as they relate to challenges particular to your study protocol, the populations you study, and in achieving your study program’s aims.  

It’s important to continuously assess and adapt your approach. This can be based on participant feedback during your study, or in looking at sensible approaches that incorporate the latest proven methods. Ultimately, the depth of insight your research uncovers is driven by the quality of your data. You need to successfully engage participants and drive optimal value for your research and its impact on human health. 

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