Offering reimbursements or incentives, such as the chance to win a prize, is an effective way of motivating people to participate in your survey, interview or focus group.
There is also a school of thought that you are ethically obliged to pay people; that people who are participating in research are donating their time and expertise to the project and should be reimbursed for that. While it is true that they are giving their time and expertise, giving them money raises some complicated issues.
The central problem is that people who participate in your information-gathering exercise, whether you are gathering outcomes data, or you are doing research or evaluation, must participate voluntarily. They can’t be pressured, or influenced, or coerced into taking part. This means that while you can offer people reimbursements for participating you shouldn’t offer so much that it might blind them to any risks involved in participating in the activity.
Some people doing evaluations or research don’t use incentives. People are often still very happy to provide their advice and knowledge without incentives.
Other evaluators or researchers do use them. Here are some approaches:
< >Establish a policy that participants receive a set amount and budget for it. Include information about this money in any information sheets and consent forms.
Surprise people. Don’t tell them they will receive money – give it to them as a thank you after they have participated in the focus group or survey. (Word will get around though.)
Use things other than cash. Some evaluators or researchers offer gift cards, phone or petrol vouchers or food. Some invite participants to put their name in a draw for a prize.
"Participants in our research are offered a standard amount to reimburse them for costs incurred. Research has found that it is not a given that people’s judgement is affected by the offer of reimbursements; people make reasoned judgments around the risks of participation, regardless of the opportunity to receive payment."
Meg Webb, Manager of the Social Action and Research Centre, Anglicare Tasmania