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Finding participants

Recruiter databases

The term database refers to any collection of related data such as a spreadsheet or a card index file as well as digital databases.

As a professional recruiter you are constantly adding new people to your database even if you don’t have a specific project in mind. You may build your databases through your own website where members of the public apply to join a panel, or through referrals from existing panel members or just general contacts made during your day-to-day lives.

A good database is one which is replenished and added to, to keep it fresh and up-to-date. It is good practice to take basic demographic information, general product and services usage to refer to in the future.  When a participant has taken part in a research project detailed information needs to be kept on what type of research it was, and subject matter, while also ensuring you monitor for repeat attendance.

All of you who collect, use and process participant data, whether it be on cards, in a note book, a list, Excel spreadsheet or a digital database need to be aware of your responsibilities under the Data Protection Act 2018.  Data protection is covered in detail in Module 4.

Face-to-face recruitment

This is often referred to as “on street” recruitment. You may be asked to recruit participants at a specific location such as a supermarket or a music festival. You would need permission to recruit in these areas and gaining this permission is the responsibility of the client commissioning the research. The client is responsible for providing you with the relevant documentation to recruit at the location and also to provide you with an identity badge or card. Recruiting face-to-face is very difficult without permission as you could be arrested for trespassing or loitering particularly at sensitive locations such as outside a school or a children’s playground.


This method is used when the universe being recruited is very small or sensitive in nature. When one person is found who fits the recruitment criteria they are asked if they know anyone else who would also fit and then they are asked if they know anyone and so on until enough people are recruited. It is vital for you to get client permission to snowball as the likelihood that these participants know each other either through work, friends or family is high and so the dynamics of the group will be different. Users of such participants, such as moderators, must be aware when participants are recruited in this way.

Client databases/lists

Recruiting from client lists can be very time-consuming so always make sure that you have enough time and resources for recruitment. Check at the beginning of recruitment whether it would be possible to free-find if there is no success or limited success with list recruitment.

It is recommended that you check if client supplied lists include ex-directory telephone numbers and numbers that have been excluded by the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). TPS is the central opt out register where people can record that they don’t want to receive unsolicited sales or marketing calls. TPS registration only prevents marketing calls; organisations are allowed to call numbers registered on the TPS for the purposes of genuine market, social or opinion research.

You will usually be asked to sign a data handling contract to confirm the security controls around your data storage and deletion procedures.

Clients should only provide personal customer information that is relevant to a research study.

Check lists you receive to make sure contact names and numbers are included and that contacts live near enough to venues being used for the qualitative research to enable participants to be able to attend. Make sure that you have sufficient contacts to contact to recruit the number needed. A rule of thumb is that you need at least twenty names with the correct data to recruit one participant.

Customers on client databases may be suspicious of market and social research calls often equating them with “sugging” – a research industry term, meaning 'selling under the guise of research'. There are several things you can do to make recruitment easier for yourself – and you will need good communication with the client. Steps you can take include, asking clients to send a warm-up letter (sometimes called a pre-engagement letter) on their own letterhead to all customers likely to be contacted before recruitment starts. This is particularly important when customer information could be regarded as sensitive or private. If email addresses are included ask if you can use email contact (never just email a list without getting client permission first). Clients usually will want to authorise any emails that you are going to send out or they may have their own email. Always try to obtain a client freephone number so that customers can verify with clients that the research is genuine. The MRS also have a freephone number for participants to check the validity of research companies.

Client lists should comprise contacts who qualify for the main quotas, e.g. if you were recruiting customers of a catalogue company who have made more than two orders the client should only supply this data along with any other qualifying data. However problems can occur because data on a list can be out of date or wrong data could have been supplied. This will soon become apparent when you start recruiting. Alert the client to this as soon as possible.

If participants ask they must be told the primary source of any list. This means telling them the name of a client/company if they supplied the list. This can be revealed at the end of the interview/group discussion rather than the beginning as long as the participants are informed that this is when the information will be revealed and are willing to consent on this basis. If clients wish to remain anonymous during recruitment participants should be told this and offered the opportunity to proceed on that basis.

There must be clear instructions from your client about what to do with client supplied customer data when projects are finished.

Clients are not allowed to use social and market research as an opportunity to update their records.  The client can be told if an individual on their list has died or if an address is incorrect. However corrected data such as new addresses cannot be passed back to clients nor field work companies.  You can report that the address record needs to be updated. 

Other incorrect information you find such as a change in brand usage cannot be passed back to the client.

Further information on the data protection requirements when working on client supplied  databases/lists can be found in the Data Protection Module.