When recruiting for focus groups and in-depth interviews, the process starts with a survey of qualifying questions known as a screener.  As the member of our team responsible for recruiting qualitative projects, I’ve seen my share of screeners ranging from very achievable to practically impossible and everything in between.  While my job is certainly easiest when working with a simple survey, I understand that some clients are seeking a very specific voice in their focus group.

Sometimes it’s difficult to know in advance if a screener is going to become restrictive.  Consider that a survey targeting the general population and including a few topic-specific questions will typically have an incidence rate of at least 15%.  With that in mind, the following factors can easily pull down the incidence rate well below 1%.

Too few qualified respondents in the population.  While 100% ideal participants may exist in the local population, there may still be limiting factors.

  • There may not be a way of contacting that individual to recruit them
  • They may be averse to participating in market research
  • They may not answer the survey questions in a predictable manner
  • They may simply not be available at the time of the study

Too many termination points.  Termination points in a survey identify which individuals simply don’t fit in the parameters of the study.  In their most basic
form termination questions narrow the age range, highest level of education, household income, etc.

If you’ve ever watched American Ninja Warrior you know that, if you throw enough obstacles at even the most qualified individual, it increases the likelihood they’ll eventually fall off.  Keeping the number of questions and termination points to a reasonable level improves the chances of survey completion.

Excessive mix and quota questions.  Some questions request a mix of respondents, such as a 50/50 mix of genders or an even mix of income levels.  Quotas are more specific and set minimums and maximums on certain criteria, such as a minimum number of married participants or no more than three liberals.  Now, I’m not against setting quotas to make sure a focus group has a good mix of recruits, but I’ve seen it taken so far that even the client can’t untangle the Hold Report.

A Hold Report is sent to the client when there aren’t enough fully qualified respondents to complete a recruiting project or an insufficient number to meet a quota or mix requirement.  In our company we primarily recruit electronically using online surveys, so I like to build in what we call “soft termination points” to capture individuals whose survey answers might put them just outside the parameters of an ideal participant.

On a recent project, I had a screener containing eight questions with quotas.  After sending a Hold Report to the client to fill the remaining four seats, they called back confused because all four respondents appeared to qualify for the study.  That was true, except that I had to explain how recruiting any one of these individuals would eliminate the other three respondents on three different quotas somewhere in the survey.

Ultimately, I always work with my clients to see where we can relax specifications to fill any remaining seats in their focus group.  Even with those compromises, we still put high-quality individuals in the discussion and gather actionable data for a successful study.

So, what’s the takeaway?  Feel free to draft a screener as complex as you’d like, but identify up front where you can provide some flexibility (Holds or soft terminations) and communicate that to your recruiter.  This is the quickest and easiest way to fill in any gaps in the recruiting goal of an especially difficult project.