Experience counts: increasing research response rates

I’ve recently been doing some work to identify what can be done to improve response rates in both qualitative and quantitative research. Although this work was conducted as part of a HEIF4 project and in the financial services sector, the findings are of relevance to anyone conducting research with individuals.  Of particular interest to me were those respondents who were not initially apathetic to research and had in the past taken part in surveys and interviews, but who had developed a reluctance to participate over time. What had caused this reluctance and how could response rates be improved? 

Digging into the literature, two pieces of work caused me to stop and think about the whole research context.  The first was the work of Pickery, Loosveldt and Carton (2001) who found that the interviewer in the first wave of research was more important than the interviewer in the second wave in terms of the impact on subsequent response rates. If the experience with the first researcher was positive then the respondent was more likely to engage again and vice versa. If we link this finding to the more recent work of Clark (2010) it seems that respondents engage in (qualitative) research for many and various reasons and not just to contribute to knowledge or for altruistic reasons. Some actually enjoy the experience; they enjoy the social comparison and the therapeutic aspect of talking about themselves and their experiences. Participation for these respondents is more about the experience and the value they as individuals gain from the interaction.

In the financial services sector there is always the grim warning that “past performance is no guarantee of future performance”. Of course, there are also no guarantees in research; however in this case there does seem to be evidence to suggest that past performance in terms of the research experience is a good indicator of future performance in response rates. The question now is how do we make the research experience more positive, stimulating and enjoyable from the respondent’s perspective? 


Pickery, J., Loosveldt, G., and Carton, A (2001) The effects of interviewer and respondent characteristics on response behavior in panel surveys: a Mulit-level approach. Sociological methods and research. 29:509-523

Clark, T. (2010) On ‘being researched’: why do people engage with qualitative research? Qualitative Research. 10: 399-419