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Last month I presented at IIeX for the first time along with my friend and colleague Kerry Hecht Labsuirs of Recollective. She gives a great overview of our research on the respondent experience here, and I want to drill down into what we see as three pillars of the respondent-researcher relationship. Kerry points out, “Ultimately, it comes down to respect, transparency, and cooperation.  These things are the foundation for all good relationships.  This is no different.” I’ll explore the problems around each of these pillars, share some things we heard from actual research participants who joined us for a roundtable discussion and propose solutions to consider.


Problem: Whether it’s a survey or a focus group, we have to be respectful of respondents’ time– be honest with them about how long it’s going to take and, of course, compensate them appropriately.

Respondents say… “Online bulletin boards feel like work because of all the follow-up questions. It’s like it never ends.” -Michelle

Solution: We need to be real with ourselves about how much we expect to probe, and be more deliberate in our question asking. Pre-test exercises, even informally with colleagues, and then tack on 5 minutes to the time we tell respondents it will take.

Problem: In the recruiting phase, can we respect that different people like to communicate in different ways? We heard a lot of people say that they’d rather record a short video than type out a response, and others say that they’d be happier with more privacy and anonymity than they get in a traditional focus group.

Respondents say… “One-on-one interviews are intense– it feels like an interrogation! But I love being in a group and hearing what other people have to say.” -Steve

Solution: Let’s view respondents a bit more holistically — as people! Don’t make introverts come to groups, and don’t ask extroverts to sit at home doing online surveys. Work with those who own the databases to either profile their participants for psychographics/ personality characteristics and invite them to appropriate research projects.


Problem: We learned that a lot of respondents “fudge” their answers to screening questions in order to be selected for groups.

Respondents say… “It’s a chess game, listening to what they are asking and thinking 2 steps ahead of what they are looking for. Answering honestly, but manipulating just enough to get in.” -Victor

“It hurts when I qualify, and then they tell me I don’t qualify a few days later.” -David

Solution: We need to be clear with respondents about who we are looking for and why, and communicate to them that there is a place in research for everyone– they might not qualify for this project, but maybe there’s another one that would be a better fit. They don’t need to know the details of our clients’ whims, but some explanation about why they might have been disqualified and a solution (here’s another project you qualify for…) might smooth some rumpled feathers and create a healthier environment.


Problem: An ongoing tension in the survey design world is that questionnaires are seen as unnatural: the goal of communicating should be cooperation, but surveys aren’t administered the way we talk, and this results in two people often working against each other, rather than working towards a common goal.

Respondents say… “Screeners don’t use good scales. They ask me how often I do something, but some days it is never and other days are 5 or 6 times. It makes it impossible to answer.” -Steve

Solution: Can we make the language in screeners more authentic and conversational to  encourage respondents to cooperate and give us more honest answers? We know that when respondents are engaged, we get higher data quality. I’d even love to see researchers add an intro video in screeners or online surveys to engage respondents and show them that real people are interested in their responses.

We’re thrilled about the response this research is getting, and are already planning the next phase– stay tuned for more exciting findings!

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