In a typical market research project, the subject material is fairly uncontroversial. From time to time, our market research company has the pleasure of conducting surveys on fun topics like community beer preferences and the beloved Syracuse St. Patrick's Day Parade. However, there are also more sensitive topics in market research which require a different level of care and preparation.
Participants may answer questions about their experiences with topics including:
- Financial struggle
- Medical issues
- Personal loss
Whether conducting an online survey, in-depth interview, or focus group, the optimal experience for participants in these studies will require some additional planning. Success in this space boils down to research that is both thorough and thoughtful.
Keep reading below for a look at seven important considerations when researching sensitive subjects.
Market research occasionally explores sensitive topics for participants. Be prepared for projects like these with the following recommendations.
1. Look at it from the participant's perspective
When it comes to research on delicate subjects, you need a different mindset for interacting with participants. During the recruiting phase of the project, emphasize what participants might want from the experience.
In some cases, asking questions in a traditional way may come across as intrusive or inconsiderate. Take the extra step to word questions in an effective yet empathetic way.
2. Set expectations with the client
In projects dealing with sensitive topics, the alignment of the client's objectives with the research is key. There is more at stake during an interview than normal given the complicated material. It is not as simple to go back to a participant for follow-up or even recruit a replacement for additional information.
Backup plans must be in place and communicated in advance to the client. If not, expect issues to arise like a challenging recruit or interviews that may miss the mark.
For example, a funeral home has partnered with a phone survey company to conduct in-depth interviews with past clients. The main objective of this study is to determine if families were satisfied with their services. Being that this is a sensitive topic, some participants may end the phone call early because it is too painful of a topic to discuss in greater detail.
It is important for the phone survey company to set these expectations with the funeral home or even suggest a different research methodology such as online surveys. Participants may feel more comfortable answering these questions in the privacy of their own home.
3. Consider alternative recruiting methods
Either because of a low incidence or recruit hesitation to share sensitive information, it can be a struggle to find participants. Researchers must be willing to explore unconventional methods to meet recruiting needs.
One approach is to conduct a grassroots search for participants that meet the necessary criteria. Getting into closed social media groups or community groups may connect you with the right people. Referrals from existing recruits can also go a long way.
Have you ever been faced with a tough recruit in market research? Us too. Learn 3 quick tips from our market research recruiting company.
4. Prioritize comfort for the participants
From a research perspective, it is important to do what you can to make a participant comfortable during the interview process. You don't have to pull out all the stops, but something as simple as a comfortable chair can make a difference.
Another consideration is to select a time and place convenient for the participant if it is in-person. Disclosure of the research objectives or the sponsoring client also help create rapport with the participant, when appropriate.
5. Choose the right fit for the interviewer
Depending on the resources available to the research firm, it can make a significant impact to assign an interviewer with relevant experience to the topic.
Because so much of the participant experience is a direct result of the interviewer, any extra care in how questions are asked will be valuable. The ability to carefully manage body language and facial expressions is critical for interviews around a sensitive subject.
For example, a law firm has hired a focus group company to conduct a group discussion with those who have suffered a personal injury. It is important for the moderator to not be squeamish or appear horrified when participants are discussing their accidents.
The interviewer must create a warm environment in order for the participant to be most comfortable sharing their experience of hiring a personal injury lawyer. In this case the focus group company may recommend hiring a moderator who has experience a personal injury, as a way to relate to the focus group participants.
No matter the subject, it's important to have a qualified moderator during focus group discussions. Here are 10 must have qualities of a focus group moderator.
6. Build-in flexibility during the interview
There may be an extra degree of unpredictability when conducting research on sensitive topics. Keeping this in mind, the structure of the interview should include for extra time for some thought and recollection.
A good strategy is to pace questions according to the level of sensitivity. Some questions that dive into the material may come across as triggering or insulting when asked too early in the interview.
In this case, a potential option is to conduct in-home interviews. In-home interviews entail a moderator or team of interviewers visiting a participants home to have scheduled a discussion. This allows the participant to be in a controlled setting where they feel most at home (literally).
7. Allow for emotions
My last piece of advice is to remember that the participants are human. The subject may be a delicate matter that elicits an emotional response from participants. Be prepared to let them feel what they feel.
Emotions shouldn't derail the interview, either. A good researcher can get the answers they need while respecting the sensitivity of the material to the participants.
If conducting in-person interviews, an experienced market research company will have tissues, tea, and other calming resources available.
Drive Research is a market research company located in Syracuse, NY. Our team of professionals are experienced in designing and conducting market research projects around sensitive topics such as home energy assistance, personal injury cases, and Medicaid usage.
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