Recruiting Participants

Once you have decided who you want to sample for your evaluation, another important consideration is how to contact and recruit those people to take part.

Never underestimate how long it can take to gain access, and to recruit enough participants for your study.

Contacting Potential Evaluation Participants

You may already have direct access with the intended evaluation audience. For example, if you are delivering training or an educational workshop then you can build a conversation about the evaluation into the workshop.

When conducting publicity campaigns, however, you may not have direct contact with the target audience. In such cases you may need the help of a gatekeeper. This is someone who does have access to your target audience - Youth Workers; Support Groups; Company Managers; and Organisations such as Age UK, or RoadPeace.

Encouraging Participation

Once you have access to the target audience, you will then need to encourage people to take part. Do not expect 100% of those you request to take part in the evaluation to agree to do so. Postal surveys, for example, tend to have a return rate of around 25%. Here are some tips on how to encourage people to take part:

1. Let participants know what to expect

Write a piece of text that will form the basis of an invitation to take part in the evaluation. The following information should be included:

  • Why the evaluation is being conducted
  • What the topic of the evaluation will be
  • Why should they care? How will the findings help them and/or others similar to themselves?
  • State an estimate of how long the survey or focus group will last
  • For focus groups give detail information about the venue – what time will the meeting start? Where is the venue located? Provide information on how to get to the venue using a number of different transport options.
  • The invitation should also be personalised where practical to do so.

2. Send a reminder

There is usually a spike of people taking part in the evaluation at the start of the data collection period. Once this starts to drop off send a friendly reminder. Remind only the people who have not got back to you, if you can.

3. Do not put people off once they have agreed to take part

The difficult part of gathering responses is getting participants to agree to take part in the evaluation. Once someone has agreed to take part it is important not to, unintentionally, irritate the participants, to the point where they no longer want to take part. To help avoid this you should:

  • Keep questions on topic – do not ask something that is not essential to the evaluation. Ask yourself what the point is of each question.
  • Stick to the timeframe you provided – in a survey it is suggested that you allow around one minute per question. Within a focus group or interview remember to move the conversation along to ensure you cover all the ground you would like to. Do a pilot or a dry run to see if your time estimates are correct.
  • If you are working with a community where English is not the first language then be sure to accommodate this. For example, have the survey translated and use an interpreter in interviews or focus groups.

When choosing a venue for a focus group, check that it is convenient for the participants. For example: there is free parking, or good public transport links. Also check that there are facilities for people with disabilities – ramps, and toilets.

4. Show appreciation

Remember to thank anyone who agrees to take part in the evaluation; and again once they have completed their participation.

You should also take action, where required, based on the findings of the evaluation. This shows you have valued the time and effort your participants have put into the evaluation. If possible update those who took part on the changes you are making.

5. Tips for sending postal questionnaires

How the questionnaire is formatted and how it is sent can also have an impact on the response rate (1). These will need to be balanced against the cost of doing so.

  • Include a stamped addressed return envelope
  • Use coloured ink
  • Send first class
  • Send using recorded delivery
  • When sending reminders include another copy of the questionnaire


You have had some publicity materials printed in a different language, and passed these to a local Community Centre to distribute. You want to sample the largely non-English speaking users of the Community Centre to find out if they remember receiving the materials. Also, so that you can improve the materials for next time, you want to find out if they thought the message was relevant to them, and what changes they would suggest.

You have had little contact with this particular community before and you do not speak their first language. You would like to conduct a short survey of visitors to the Community Centre, and also some focus groups.

Your access to this community will be a lot easier with the help of the community leader. To gain this support you need to be able to explain the purpose of your evaluation, what exactly you are asking of the Centre users, and how your findings can help them. You also need to explain that the data will be treated as confidential.

The community leader can introduce you to Centre users and help explain your evaluation to them. The leader might also be able to suggest the best times for you to come to talk to people, and the best times to arrange focus groups. They could also advise you what people's concerns might be, and help you to avoid offending anyone's cultural beliefs. Finally, the leader can also pass on any follow up information you would like to distribute.


  1. Edwards, P, et al. (2002) Increasing response rates to postal questionnaires: systematic review, British Medical Journal.