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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 11 did enlist the help of a gatekeeper to help recruit the homosexual groups. The gatekeeper provided access to the community and the volunteers helped made potential participants more comfortable during the screening process. In the case of the Mass Media Project, the gatekeeper was the head of a local agency that works with the homosexual community concerning HIV/AIDS related issues. The agency helped identify locations that could be used for recruiting and provided insight into the community’s activities that helped Project personnel schedule the focus groups. The agency also recommended individuals to pass out screeners. These individuals were paid by the Project to go to area gay bars to distribute and collect screeners that were self- administered by potential participants. The Mass Media Project team reviewed the screeners, and those individuals who were eligible for the study were contacted by Project personnel and invited to focus group sessions. Researchers should be aware that there could be problems with using gatekeepers or volunteers. Empowering these individuals to be recruiters means that the researcher may lose control in assuring that the respondents match the desired characteristics (Kitzinger & Barbour, 1999). It could also result in focus groups that are composed of a convenience sample rather than the desired theoretically driven sample (Krueger, 1988:196). Recognizing these problems, the Mass Media Project instituted several safeguards. First, bar recruiters administering screeners were not told what characteristics made an individual eligible for the study. Other than surmising that participants should probably be homosexual, there was no way for the recruiters to infer key eligibility characteristics and influence respondent answers. Second, the screeners were designed so respondents would have no idea which questions were important for qualifying for the study. Third, these paid recruiters were briefed directly by the Mass Media Project manager so that they were aware of the importance of encouraging respondents to complete the entire survey and they were also provided with precise scripts to use when disseminating and collecting screeners. Fourth, bar recruiters were paid by the hour, rather than by the number of screeners completed, to encourage more professional behavior. Finally, the Project maintained constant communication with all these parties which helped create an environment that facilitated open communication and feedback between the researcher and the gatekeeper (Krueger, 1988:196). Professional agencies may also be used for recruiting. The Mass Media Project did not use a professional agency; however, this approach merits a short discussion. Morrison (1998) strongly advises that researchers engage a professional recruiting agency unless potential respondents are in easily identified self- contained groups that can be directly addressed. Morrison also feels that recruitment agencies help draw the appropriate sample without troubling the researcher. However, there are problems that could arise with professional agencies. First, cost could be prohibitive, especially if there are narrow eligibility requirements. Second, unless the researcher explicitly instructs a professional agency on what sampling frame to use, it is possible that the agency may rely on contacting panels of people who have “signed-up” to be participants.

Authors: Allard, Suzie., Palmgreen, Philip. and Zimmerman, Rick.
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Recruiting for Focus Groups in Health Communication Campaigns
page 11
did enlist the help of a gatekeeper to help recruit the homosexual groups. The gatekeeper provided access to
the community and the volunteers helped made potential participants more comfortable during the screening
process.
In the case of the Mass Media Project, the gatekeeper was the head of a local agency that works with
the homosexual community concerning HIV/AIDS related issues. The agency helped identify locations that
could be used for recruiting and provided insight into the community’s activities that helped Project personnel
schedule the focus groups. The agency also recommended individuals to pass out screeners. These
individuals were paid by the Project to go to area gay bars to distribute and collect screeners that were self-
administered by potential participants. The Mass Media Project team reviewed the screeners, and those
individuals who were eligible for the study were contacted by Project personnel and invited to focus group
sessions.
Researchers should be aware that there could be problems with using gatekeepers or volunteers.
Empowering these individuals to be recruiters means that the researcher may lose control in assuring that the
respondents match the desired characteristics (Kitzinger & Barbour, 1999). It could also result in focus
groups that are composed of a convenience sample rather than the desired theoretically driven sample
(Krueger, 1988:196). Recognizing these problems, the Mass Media Project instituted several safeguards.
First, bar recruiters administering screeners were not told what characteristics made an individual eligible for
the study. Other than surmising that participants should probably be homosexual, there was no way for the
recruiters to infer key eligibility characteristics and influence respondent answers. Second, the screeners
were designed so respondents would have no idea which questions were important for qualifying for the
study. Third, these paid recruiters were briefed directly by the Mass Media Project manager so that they were
aware of the importance of encouraging respondents to complete the entire survey and they were also
provided with precise scripts to use when disseminating and collecting screeners. Fourth, bar recruiters were
paid by the hour, rather than by the number of screeners completed, to encourage more professional
behavior. Finally, the Project maintained constant communication with all these parties which helped create
an environment that facilitated open communication and feedback between the researcher and the
gatekeeper (Krueger, 1988:196).
Professional agencies may also be used for recruiting. The Mass Media Project did not use a
professional agency; however, this approach merits a short discussion. Morrison (1998) strongly advises that
researchers engage a professional recruiting agency unless potential respondents are in easily identified self-
contained groups that can be directly addressed. Morrison also feels that recruitment agencies help draw the
appropriate sample without troubling the researcher. However, there are problems that could arise with
professional agencies. First, cost could be prohibitive, especially if there are narrow eligibility requirements.
Second, unless the researcher explicitly instructs a professional agency on what sampling frame to use, it is
possible that the agency may rely on contacting panels of people who have “signed-up” to be participants.


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