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Focus Group Recruiting in Health Communication Campaigns: Lessons from a Project on Risky Sexual Behavior
Unformatted Document Text:  Recruiting for Focus Groups in Health Communication Campaigns page 9 sexual activity. The screener design and the lessons learned during implementation will be discussed in greater depth in a later section of this paper. While crafting eligibility requirements, it should be noted that narrowing eligibility could make recruiting far more difficult and expensive. This suggests that researchers should maintain a system for an on-going review of recruiting activities to monitor how eligibility requirements are influencing the number of respondents recruited versus the effort being expended. Researchers may need to consider relaxing certain criteria if narrow eligibility requirements are making it difficult to find respondents, possibly leading to the study exceeding the budget. The decision to alter eligibility requirements to make them less confining must be considered carefully and should only be authorized when it is confirmed that the change will not negatively impact the research design. The Mass Media Project focus groups were originally conceived as being comprised of 18-24 year old adults. However, after careful review of hundreds of hours of recruiting results, it was determined that this narrow age range was causing recruiting costs to climb precipitously. Prior research was reviewed to determine the implications of broadening the sample to include 25 and 26 year olds, and recruiting records were analyzed to determine how extending the age range would affect recruiting results. These evaluations showed that extending the age range would not compromise the research design or intended use for the data, but it would cut recruiting costs appreciably. Therefore, the age range was changed to 18-26 year olds, and the change was noted in the Project records. Focus group researchers must also consider how to protect populations that have characteristics that may be sensitive, stigmatized, covert or invisible, and therefore when an individual chooses to participate, s/he can be identified as part of a “deviant” group or could experience discrimination (Farquhar, 1999). Communication researchers often address populations of this type in their studies; for example prison communities (Corey, 1996; Lindlof, 1987:175), and HIV positive people (Brashers & Neidig, 2000; Cawyer & Smith-Dupre, 1995). The Mass Media Project was sensitive to confidentiality issues for all respondents; however, there were special considerations when working with the homosexual community. Special measures included making initial recruiting contact at locations that were well known (e.g. gay bars) to the gay community and using individuals within the community to make the actual contact. Additionally, when selecting venues for discussions with this population, meeting rooms at the local gay pride center were preferred, and meeting rooms in very public locations such as the public library were avoided. Sensitive topics and populations can make recruitment more difficult and focus group participation more selective; however, it can also be a source of data (Kitzinger & Farquhar, 1999). For example, the acceptance and participation patterns could be reviewed to determine who is avoiding or engaging in the topic which could lead to new insights about the research topic.

Authors: Allard, Suzie., Palmgreen, Philip. and Zimmerman, Rick.
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Recruiting for Focus Groups in Health Communication Campaigns
page 9
sexual activity. The screener design and the lessons learned during implementation will be discussed in
greater depth in a later section of this paper.
While crafting eligibility requirements, it should be noted that narrowing eligibility could make
recruiting far more difficult and expensive. This suggests that researchers should maintain a system for an
on-going review of recruiting activities to monitor how eligibility requirements are influencing the number of
respondents recruited versus the effort being expended. Researchers may need to consider relaxing certain
criteria if narrow eligibility requirements are making it difficult to find respondents, possibly leading to the study
exceeding the budget. The decision to alter eligibility requirements to make them less confining must be
considered carefully and should only be authorized when it is confirmed that the change will not negatively
impact the research design. The Mass Media Project focus groups were originally conceived as being
comprised of 18-24 year old adults. However, after careful review of hundreds of hours of recruiting results, it
was determined that this narrow age range was causing recruiting costs to climb precipitously. Prior research
was reviewed to determine the implications of broadening the sample to include 25 and 26 year olds, and
recruiting records were analyzed to determine how extending the age range would affect recruiting results.
These evaluations showed that extending the age range would not compromise the research design or
intended use for the data, but it would cut recruiting costs appreciably. Therefore, the age range was
changed to 18-26 year olds, and the change was noted in the Project records.
Focus group researchers must also consider how to protect populations that have characteristics that
may be sensitive, stigmatized, covert or invisible, and therefore when an individual chooses to participate,
s/he can be identified as part of a “deviant” group or could experience discrimination (Farquhar, 1999).
Communication researchers often address populations of this type in their studies; for example prison
communities (Corey, 1996; Lindlof, 1987:175), and HIV positive people (Brashers & Neidig, 2000; Cawyer &
Smith-Dupre, 1995). The Mass Media Project was sensitive to confidentiality issues for all respondents;
however, there were special considerations when working with the homosexual community. Special
measures included making initial recruiting contact at locations that were well known (e.g. gay bars) to the
gay community and using individuals within the community to make the actual contact. Additionally, when
selecting venues for discussions with this population, meeting rooms at the local gay pride center were
preferred, and meeting rooms in very public locations such as the public library were avoided.
Sensitive topics and populations can make recruitment more difficult and focus group participation
more selective; however, it can also be a source of data (Kitzinger & Farquhar, 1999). For example, the
acceptance and participation patterns could be reviewed to determine who is avoiding or engaging in the topic
which could lead to new insights about the research topic.


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