Digital platform brings researchers and participants together

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A new platform is helping to link researchers with potential candidates for research studies. Matt Terrell describes the Call for Participants project and looks at its global potential

If I asked half a dozen researchers what was the single biggest challenge they face in their work, I’d get several different answers. But I guarantee that one or more would mention the difficulty they have in recruiting suitable participants for research studies. This certainly chimes with my experience.

Several of my colleagues in academia have reported the same challenge.  Despite having access to some great technology and strong digital skills, we were no more able to find quality participants than researchers with few resources at their fingertips. The support systems that could help us simply didn’t exist. This is why 18 months ago two colleagues and I set out to develop new recruitment technology.

Daniel Ratzinger, Martin Kruusimägi and I devoted our spare time for more than five months to developing the prototype Call for Participants website. This was intended to give researchers in all disciplines a central, free-to-use platform where they can post details about their research requirements, screen applicants and get to the people they need while cutting down on the expense, time and effort that they typically have to expend currently.

The model we came up with allows researchers to create their own landing pages describing their research and tailor a set of screening questions to help them identify the right people for their particular programme. Rather than having to sift through lots of unsuitable candidates, users only receive the details from Call for Participants of those who meet the researchers’ requirements.

It works because there are lots of people who are keen to take part in research studies, even if it sometimes doesn’t feel that way when you’re searching by traditional routes. Having a centralised hub where there are lots of studies to look through, makes it really easy for potential participants to find things that interest them, discover what they’d have to do, think about how much time they will have to commit, and learn what benefits they’ll get from doing so.

While some people are attracted by small financial incentives or benefits in kind, there are plenty more who have other motivations. Charity groups often have supporters with an interest in furthering particular types of clinical or environmental research, for example, and it’s a real benefit to them if they can find lots of potential projects all in one place. It is more productive for them, too, as they only receive detailed information from Call for Participants for programmes they are genuinely eligible for, so they can make better use of their time.

Last July we entered Jisc’s Summer of Student Innovation competition and received £5000 to develop Call for Participants. The competition is designed to encourage students to take a lead in developing ways to enhance their experience and attainment, so it was a natural fit for us. It also came at just the right time for us, giving us funding to fine tune and launch the prototype version, as well as a higher profile to make the launch effective.

And we’re glad to say that Call for Participants is one of six Summer of Student Innovation 2013 projects that Jisc is taking further. We’re working with them to explore and develop the idea of offering Call for Participants as a shared service for the UK’s HE and FE sector. The platform sits well with Jisc’s existing services for education and we believe this is just the start.

Over the past few months we’ve seen demand for Call for Participants growing from across the UK as well as from other parts of Europe, India, North and South America, Australia, Malaysia and the Philippines. It’s the global nature of the platform that makes it really exciting. Recruiting participants from our own country has historically been hard enough. The ability to recruit from across the globe freely and easily opens up fresh opportunities for getting exactly the right people on board, for uncovering potential collaborations and, of course, for securing wider impact for research programmes and their eventual outputs.

With this next round of funding we’re working on a new version of the platform. This will have several new features, including the opportunity for users to provide feedback and for researchers and institutions to gather statistics on how many people take part and engage with their work. Such information is very difficult to find via other routes. These features will be available on the site by summer 2014 and we’re hoping to keep refining the platform in line with the changing needs of researchers both in the UK and further afield.

We’d welcome feedback from researchers on the upcoming version before its launch, so if you’d like to help us iron out any wrinkles and improve functionality, please go to the sales page, have a look around and leave us your feedback.

Matt Terrell works in the Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute at the UK’s University of Nottingham

Summer of Student Innovation is a co-design project in partnership between Jisc and Research Libraries UK (RLUK), Russell Universities Group of IT Directors (RUGIT), the Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL), the Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association (UCISA) and the Association for Learning Technologists  (ALT). The 2014 Summer of Student Innovation competition is open for registration now