NEW YORK – January 23rd, 2017

Today marks the official launch of the GRBN Participant Engagement Initiative. The aim of this article is to:

  1. Explain why we have launched the initiative
  2. Explain what we aim to achieve and how
  3. Thank our founding partners
  4. Call more companies to join the good fight

So, what do we want to achieve? The goal is address the serious issues of participant experience, declining participation rates and data quality, and the negative impact these are having on our industry and our clients. In short, we aim to get…


Sounds simple enough, but it will require a concerted effort from individuals and companies, from data collectors, agencies and clients, as well as from industry bodies. Above all it will require action.

On the Move – Thanks to our founding partners

For the last two years, GRBN has talked about the need for our industry to build a trust relationship with the general public, and one of the ways we need to do that is through improving the engagement with participants.

Last year, I was fortunate enough to meet many people, who are passionate about this issue and whose companies are working individually on improving the participant engagement they deliver, and based on these conversations outlined a plan for a sector-wide initiative.

In October, CASRO was kind enough to host a breakfast meeting at their Annual Conference during and after which the plan was discussed and refined, and the call-for-partners soft-launched. After this first round of discussions, a tremendous group of companies have put a stick a ground and signed up to partner on the initiative:


These companies have decided that in addition to taking individual action to improve participant engagement, it also makes sense to get together and create a truly global and sector-wide initiative in order to create more change more quickly, since everyone working in the sector has a stake in the future of our sector and that future truly does depend upon our ability to engage people in participating in research.

I would like to thank the senior management of these companies for their vision and their commitment to this initiative, because without the active participation of companies, which are designing research projects and engaging participants on a daily basis, this initiative will achieve nothing.

In particular, I would like to thank Vision Critical for taking on the role of premier partner. Here are a few words from their CEO, Scott Miller, on why they decided to take the lead on participant engagement:

For Vision Critical, improving the way companies engage with their customers by providing a better customer experience and a mutual exchange of value through that engagement is more than just a good idea – it’s our mission,” said Scott Miller. “We strongly believe that a shift in approach is imperative for the industry, and we are excited to join with GRBN and other leading industry partners to support the GRBN Participant Engagement Initiative.

Calling you to join us

If I’ve managed to convince you already to become a partner on this initiative drop us a line and we can discuss the different options available for getting involved.

If you want to hear more justification for why we think you should get involved, then read on.

So, why did we launch the initiative?

For two very good reasons:

  1. A poor user experience has a negative impact on brand or brands commissioning the research (known or guessed)
  2. A poor user experience negatively impacts our industry ability to meet clients’ needs, as people having a poor experience are less likely to participate in research in the future and more likely to spread negative word-of-mouth

Our research* tells us that too many people currently get a poor user experience too often when participating in research. It also tells us that the user experience is one of the key drivers of trust, which in turn is a key driver of whether someone is willing or not to participate in research.

Therefore, every time a research project gives a person a poor experience, we as individual buyers and individual researchers, as research agencies and as an industry as a whole, are creating negative value for business in general and for specific brands or companies in particular. Not what our mission statement is!

We are also negatively impacting our future ability to cost-effectively collect data of the required quality.

Killing the Golden Goose

This was one of the children’s stories I was brought up with, and I assume is a familiar one to many of you reading this. For our industry, people’s willingness to share opinions and data with us is our Golden Goose.

Our industry has been built on that willingness, which has basically given us a more or less free raw material to refine and sell, and without that willingness, our ability to deliver against our clients’ needs is in serious doubt.

Although our goose is certainly not dead yet, we have done a lot of damage to it and this initiative is a stick in the sand to say “enough is enough” and we must help the goose heal. Part of how we can increase the willingness of people to participate in research is to engage them better and to improve the user experience, in order to give people a better “return on investment” for the time they are giving us.

Fighting sharks and swimming against the tide

The task ahead of us is not an easy one, but one thing is for sure… if we do nothing now to tackle this issue, then our mountain to climb will be even higher. I believe that few of us, on either the client or the agency-side have the honest ability to say that this is someone else’s problem, someone else’s fight.

I am not going to go into any depth on this, but I believe there are some very significant trends working against us, as we fight to increase participation rates:

  1. People’s trust in authority / experts is on the decline
    1. Our research shows an alarmingly low level of trust around the globe in politicians, in the media, AND in research companies
  2. People have (or feel they have) less time
    1. Why should they give it up to participate in research?
  3. The competition for people’s down-time is more intense than ever
    1. Why should people participate in research when they could be on Facebook, Youtube, World of Warcraft…?

None of these trends are going to make our job easier over the years to come, but mean that we need to work double-hard to justify our requests to participate in research.

A word on passive data – A massive opportunity not to be screwed up

Some people argue that collecting passive data is the answer to these challenges. If we don’t need to ask questions, we don’t need people’s time. Whilst this is true, and I am a great advocate for taking advantage of the technology to collect passive data, wherever and whenever it makes sense to do so, those of us who have worked on engaging people to sign up to give access to their passive data, know just how hard it is to convince a representative sample of people (whatever the target group) to agree to share their data.

The amount of trust needed to let someone follow you passively is indeed much higher than it is to let someone ask you a question or ten, and therefore the more we let the level of trust in research companies slip, the harder it will be for us to take advantage of the massive opportunity that digitalisation affords our industry.

Turning things on their heads and thinking positively

But let’s not focus anymore on the negative aspects of doing nothing. Let’s focus on the positive aspects of taking decisive action to improve participant engagement and build trust.

Imagine a world, in this world of mistrust, where the research industry is seen as (relatively) trusted. A world in which we stand out from other types of organisations asking for and using people’s data, as more trusted.

In that world, people will definitely be more willing to participate in research.

To create this world, we need to do three things:

  1. Demonstrate the value of what we do
    1. That it actually makes a difference to people as both citizens and consumers
  2. Give people a good experience when they do participate
    1. That we don’t abuse their willingness to participate
  3. Respect and protect their data
    1. That we are transparent about how people’s data is used and that we follow our codes

Adding to the customer experience, or at least not detracting from it

More and more companies are implementing customer-centric strategies, where customer experience is a key element.

Although participants today are rarely told who the research is/was for – more about that in a later post – this is often evident from the questions asked, and when it is not, it does not stop people guessing and then blaming a specific company or brand, rightly or wrongly, if they get a bad experience. Wouldn’t it be great if participating in research, when it does not negatively impact the research objectives, actually adds to the customer experience, and as a minimum not create a negative customer experience, which negatively impacts the company or brand (real or perceived) behind the research?

Wouldn’t it be great if as part of the ROI of Insights measurement – more of that next week – the customer insights team could report how they have added to the customer experience, or at the very least would not have to report (sleep in the knowledge) that they had negatively impacted the brand or company they work for?

Walking the walk

Whilst we need to keep talking about this issue, talking will not lead to any results without action.

The GRBN Participant Engagement Initiative is all about action, all about changing behaviour. In the first instance, we will achieve two things with this initiative:

  1. We will create a handbook of best practice in the area of participant engagement

This handbook will be distributed to fieldwork companies, research agencies and clients across the globe, so that no-one can use the excuse of “oh, I didn’t know that” if they produce research projects with a low participant engagement and a poor user experience.

  1. We will put in place metrics for measuring both the user experience and the brand impact

These metrics will be analysed so that we can better understand what factors are causing a good and a bad experience. Not only will this knowledge be spread through the handbook, but more importantly companies will be able use the metrics to drive behavioural change, not just in their company, but in the way they work with their clients.

Inclusivity not exclusivity

What makes this initiative unique is its true inclusive nature.

To make significant change happen, we believe that all parties involved in the research process, from beginning to end, should be a part of the initiative. For this reason, we are engaging not only data collectors in this initiative but also research agencies and end clients. More about end-client engagement next week.

All companies and individuals with a passion for improving participant engagement are welcome to join the initiative, now or later.

Calling you to join us

We already have a great group of companies on-board, but we want more! We are calling all companies, which believe in the importance of participant engagement, and which are willing to step up to the plate and take action to improve the user experience we deliver.

There are a number of ways for companies to get involved:

  1. Metrics partners
    1. Collect and use the user experience and brand impact metrics
  2. Workgroup partners
    1. Provide input and work on the Participant Engagement handbook
  3. Research-on-research partners
    1. GRBN will continue to do research on this topic and seeks partners to work with

To those companies interested in growing their reputation as a company which cares about participant engagement and understands its importance in delivering value to clients, the initiative also offer attractive sponsorship packages.

You can read more about the different ways of participating in the call-for-partners documents, which can be accessed here. 

Improve the User Experience” 100-day challenge

The call-to-action is not only to companies, but also to individuals. Through the User Experience 100-day challenge individuals have the possibility to part of the movement to co-create a positive future for the research sector, by taking a personal pledge and action over a 100-day period to give participants in research a better experience, today, tomorrow and the day after.


So what are you waiting for? Get involved today!

Drop us a line and we can discuss the different options available for getting involved on a corporate level


Click here and click on the User Experience challenge card

* You can read more about the research GRBN, in co-operation with its partners, has carried out on both Trust and the User Experience here