The spectrum of research topics we see in this industry is broad, covering all of the intricate niches of consumer products that fall in between the bookends. Clients work hard to determine what type of consumer best matches their brand profile, typically based on statistical data collected over time and evaluated prior to conducting research. So, when it comes time to test the market, it only makes sense that the strongest feedback will come from those participants with specifications that match the clients consumer base. Research firms are then given a set of criterion from which to draw against through the recruiting phase.
We’ve seen it all, from the occasional request for participants without any specific limitations, to requests so specific that it seems nearly impossible to find even one person who might match what the clients need. Regardless of the level of difficulty, ethical values should always be followed or the integrity of the recruit could be severely compromised, resulting in thousands of dollars lost for all parties involved in the process.
In the world of market research, there are many ethical standards in place for the various phases each project surpasses. When it comes to participant recruiting, there are several main points that should be considered and closely followed, regardless of the level of difficulty a project may present.
1. Respecting Respondents: It’s important to remember that the individuals being considered for research participation have already given their valuable time and attention through the screening process. This could take anywhere from two to twenty minutes, and is time for which they are not being compensated. They are often times providing personal information, and confiding in the research firm representing the project. Research interviewers are the face of the firm, but also of the client for whom the work is being conducted. Respondents should be treated with respect and in a professional manner at all phases of every research project. Without them, there wouldn’t be market research!
2. Confidentiality: It isn’t one sided. Each client and respondent alike have a code of confidentiality that must be maintained indefinitely. Great care should always be taken to ensure that sensitive information which could potentially identify participants to third-party sources is kept secure and confidential. The same ethical boundaries should be extended to clients, as well, in order to protect the confidentiality of their studies and prevent bias feedback from respondents. In the event a client requests sensitive information on a participant (such as last name or contact information), permission should be sought from the respondents prior to the release, and if necessary, permissive documentation to keep on file.
3. Persuasive or suggestive recruiting methods: At no time during the screening interview should a recruiter ever attempt to influence or persuade a respondents answer or opinion by emphasizing words or responses, ad-libbing, changing the frame, order or response of questions. It’s extremely important to the integrity of each project that data is sourced and collected impartially so that the concluded research results are a true representation of reality.
4. Honesty: Applicable to recruiting, as well as during the analysis and presentation of findings, participant responses and feedback should be recorded and represented accurately and honestly. Adjusting responses during the screening phase in order to meet a quota or enable qualification is completely intolerable, and poorly positions the integrity of the project.
Additional information about market research ethics can be found on the MRA website at www.marketingresearch.org/code