Recruiting and Retaining Hispanic Immigrant Participants
Posted on February 15, 2012
We interviewed 100 of these participants individually and collected group data from the others through focus group sessions. We also interviewed and conducted focus groups with advocates and health care and social services providers. Ethnographic observations within the study communities throughout the course of the research informed recruitment strategies and also provided valuable data for the study.
- Immigrant fear of institutional contact, especially of any institutions related to, or perceived to be related to, the government or immigration authorities
- Immigrants' general sense of caution and vulnerability, particularly among Central Americans, due to documentation issues and lack of supportive social networks
We provided each participant $25 in appreciation for their time, an amount deemed not to be coercive by community leaders. In addition, we provided food and beverages at focus group sessions and during some interviews. Information and referrals for health and social services were made by the study team when problems were identified during interviews.
- Religious and political leaders
- Immigrant advocates
- Legal agency staff
- Health/HIV and social service providers
- Restaurant and store owners
On average, fieldworkers visited recruitment sites at least three times, with each visit lasting 4-8 hours. After getting to know the proprietor, the researchers started to talk with potential participants visiting the store or restaurant. Sometimes the store or restaurant owner facilitated these interactions by securing the potential participants' permission to be approached by fieldworkers in advance.
In some cases, restaurant owners gave our research team permission to conduct interviews at the restaurant, which was ideal because it provided a space where potential participants felt safe. In addition, the familiarity of the flavors, smells, and dialect spoken in the restaurant helped to create a favorable environment for sharing experiences and ideas. Other "safe" interview places included neutral, confidential, and familiar locations such as frequently-visited agency offices and secluded corners of coffee shops.
The research team also made sure to offer as many additional details about the study as necessary for the participants to feel comfortable with proceeding. For example, we took special care to clarify and explain the informed consent document, which was initially overwhelming to many prospective participants due to their low literacy levels and concern about official documents. We also shared with them how their contribution of experience and ideas to the study might benefit their community and other immigrant communities in the future. These careful and detailed explanations often eased their concerns and helped to engage participants in a collaborative dynamic.
We also found that certain study-related words such as "investigation" and "research" evoked a negative reaction among many participants, so we made an effort to use less threatening-sounding words such as "conversation" and "study."
And lastly, when meeting with participants, the trained bilingual interviewers made sure to validate participants' knowledge, opinions, and experiences by explaining to the participants that they were the "teachers" of their lives and experience and that the interviewers were the "students."
As with any study, researchers also need to clearly communicate key aspects of the study—its objectives, how confidentiality will be maintained, how the data will be collected and used—to participants and potential participants.
Particularly when the topic under investigation is sensitive, as was the case in this study, researchers need to understand the effects of stigma and discrimination in relation to immigrant status and the topic of the study in different cultures. Researchers also need to be sensitive to the anxiety undocumented immigrants tend to feel toward authorities, especially those associated or perceived to be associated with immigration.
And lastly, when a study includes multiple Hispanic cultures, it's important for researchers not to homogenize these groups with regard to recruiting and retaining participants as well as drawing conclusions from the data collected. Ethnic and cultural differences among Hispanics can be significant even within a given nationality, and these variances often warrant different considerations and approaches for researchers.
Shedlin, M. G., Decena, C. U., Mangadu, T., & Martinez, A. (2011). Research participant recruitment in Hispanic communities: Lessons learned. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, 13, 352-360. doi 10.1007/s10903-009-9292-1
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