A question of engagement

A question of engagement
engageverb       1 [ trans. ] occupy, attract, or involve (someone’s interest or attention)
While recently attending the AMSRS Summer School there was much discussion about what needs to change and where the industry was headed in the future.  Ray Poynter’s blog post has a great summary of outtakes from Summer School, but there was one point that was made that I believe is fundamental to the future of our industry that needs to constantly be addressed – engagement of participants.

As an industry we seem to forget that it is part of our job to ensure we engage those we ask to participate in our research.  For the most part, people are not obliged to participate in research, they voluteer to do so.  While I agree that most people genuinely want to offer their opinions and be heard, it is the way in which we make them do this that can be the problem.  Answering a 30 minute online survey, full of grid questions is by no means engaging. And without any feedback mechanisms, too often people feel their views are not heard.

While as an industry we have moved on from the use of the term ‘respondents’ to ‘participants’, I am not sure we have fully embraced the idea that we have to work harder to engage participants in what we do.  At Summer School when I broached this subject, I was met with the response – ‘we are not in the entertainment industry!’   No we are not, but we are in an industry that relies on engagement!  And for most part we have taken the easy way out, procuring engagement via monetary incentives.   But now even that is getting harder.

So what does that mean for researchers?

– It means we need to change the way we do things.
– We should be looking for new and engaging ways to collect information.
– We should be experimenting with things that we may not be comfortable with.
– We should be looking for more natural (and I would argue more authentic) ways to engage the public in what we do.

In my experience, participant engagement is possible and rewarding.  In fact, it can even be fun (dare it say it!).  And making participation enjoyable doesn’t undermine the legitimacy of it.

Feedback from participants involvement in Latitude’s online research communities shows just how much engagement is indeed possible:

“I had no idea how much fun this could be and have given facebook the flick this week as I just don’t have time for it right now! It is great to come back and see what people have added to your discussions and see what new ones have begun.”

“This has been a fantastic experience. It is so nice to know that what we are saying seems to count and that the right people are taking notice to make (client) better than it already is. I’ve had heaps of fun and would love to participate in the future .”

“I’ve never experienced anything like it personally. The only thing I can compare it to is surveys that I regularly do but they rarely give you an option for free speech like this forum has. It was far more interactive and you could easily clarify our thoughts and suggestions by just asking. A survey couldn’t do this.  It was fun, informative and made me feel like a valued customer.”

I’d say it’s time the industry realised the bar has been raised and we need to aim higher.

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