Fraud Alert! (Part One)

As a design researcher, I find few things more difficult or frustrating than recruiting qualified and honest research participants. The recruiting process is arguably the most important part of a project, but often the most overlooked.

Over the past 25 years, I’ve personally observed and interviewed thousands upon thousands of people and families throughout the world. I can smell a “focus groupie” (as we call them) a mile away. In recent years I have seen more and more of them in every market, in every corner of the world: people who earn a secondary income by frequently attending focus groups and contextual interviews. Fraudulent recruiting agencies and participants have become an epidemic, which is poisoning the research industry.

Many recruiters fail to fully understand or accept the consequences of their poor recruiting. Besides the impact it has on data quality, one bad participant, specifically an in-context observation/interview, can cost thousands of dollars in time (fees), travel, and support services.

But if one bad recruit were all we had to worry about, things would be different. Without vigilant monitoring, you can end up with an entire market of unusable respondents. The worst conversation any researcher can have with their client is telling them a market must be redone because of bad recruiting.

Not all recruiters are bad, nor are all participants liars; however, finding a good recruiting agency has become the exception and not the rule. As recruiting agencies face more pressure from clients to decrease costs and time associated with recruiting, diligence throughout the process and quality of recruiters are compromised. Many recruiting firms pay their recruiting staff slightly above minimum wage, with little or no experience or training.

In a human-centric business, if you can’t trust the honesty of your participants, how can you trust your analysis, your conclusions or your design recommendations? The old saying holds true, “garbage in, garbage out”.

 (Come back next week to read about how SonicRim has tackled this problem.)

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