We often turn to recruiters go find our participants. A screener is built, a company hired and two weeks later we show up on someone’s doorstep with camera in hand. Of course this is a practical reality of timeframes and budgets, but it means losing opportunities to expand and improve the research we do. Recruiting in the field is and should always be an element of how we execute our work. Be willing and able to recognize potential participants while you are actually doing the work. Take advantage of the setting and use it to recruit. We often overlook the situations we find ourselves in, missing opportunities to gather a wider range of experiences and perspectives. The plane, the party, the person in the shoe store, they are all opportunities to strike up a conversation and find participants. But why do it? There are a several reasons.
First, context shapes behavior and conversation. The nature of the interaction we initiate in one setting will produce a different kind of interaction than we may experience in another venue. That means that once the participant is recruited and the setting changes, we may uncover potential differences between what they say or do in one context to another. Contradictions are where some of the most powerful insights usually occur. Which leads to the second point.
Recruiting in the field it begins the data collection process and helps to develop and theory behind what you’re seeing earlier in the research. It is an opportunity to start formulating questions and ideas based on first-hand interaction rather than waiting until you meet a participant for the first time. Who are the people we want to talk with? What are the social and cultural circles that will shape the event. It isn’t enough to define a demographic sample, you need to think in terms of cultural, social, professional and environmental systems. We tend to reduce people to their parts rather than thinking about them in a broader context.
Third, recruiting in the field often leads to a greater rapport. Rather than being a stranger who shows up at your doorstep one afternoon, the participant already has a sense of relationship, provided you’ve taken the time to strike up a solid conversation. Participants recruited in this way have a different set of expectations and take on a role that breaks free of the researcher/participant paradigm because this sort of recruitment changes the power dynamic, moving the nature of the interaction from a transaction to one of genuine sharing.