Should I pay for research participants or not?

Written by: Paul Stallard

These days, it is pretty common for research participants to be incentivised to take part. It used to be the case that people would take part purely for the reward of giving their opinions, but as market research has become more widespread, response rates have fallen, and the industry has responded by building financial incentives into the process.

The type of research you are conducting has an impact on whether or not you should pay respondents. Often participants in qualitative research, such as focus groups, have to give up considerable amounts of time and also have to travel to a venue in order to take part. In such cases it has long been standard practice to give financial incentives as compensation for the time taken and the inconvenience. Quantitative surveys are most often conducted online nowadays, and many use panels of pre-recruited respondents, who are given small sums each time they take part in a survey.

There have been many studies into the efficacy and the ethics of paying for research responses, as it raises a number of concerns. There are issues of consent, for example, can respondents be said to have given free consent to take part if they are being paid, or can they be seen to have been coerced? There are also issues of accuracy – will respondents lie so they can take part and get paid?

Any reputable market research supplier will have clear guidelines around how and when they will pay respondents. They will also take great care to check the quality of the sample they use to conduct surveys, and to validate the quality of the data that they collect. Similarly, suppliers that recruit participants for qualitative research will also take pains to validate that they are who they say they are.  Paying for research is commonplace, and the costs are usually factored in to the quote your supplier will give you. As a research buyer, although it is important to be aware of these concerns, you can rely on your supplier to offer direction.

Any reputable market research supplier will have clear guidelines around how and when they will pay respondents

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