It’s every moderator’s dream – eight articulate, creative and engaged participants sitting around the table. Sure, a well-designed recruitment screener goes a long way, but what other tools do we have in our box to help get participants to “bring it” to the table?

From our experience in moderating and recruiting, the pre-group assignment, (aka homework), is an effective means of getting the job done for all parties involved: recruiter, participant and moderator.

  1. It gives recruiters an excuse to follow-up. When recruiters have the chance to follow-up with recruitees to see if they have any questions about a pre-group assignment, it allows them to determine who is involved in the project and who isn’t. If a recruiter has any doubts, they can easily find someone else that better fits the bill.
  2. Serious participants enjoy the challenge.  We sometimes forget that participants, like any other human beings, like to feel prepared. A pre-group assignment not only gets them thinking about the subject, but allows them to commit to the process before setting foot in the facility. We are consistently impressed by how engaged participants become when assigned a pre-group task, both in completing the task and when participating in the group or interview.
  3. It helps the moderator screen participants prior to the group. A pre-group assignment gives the moderator a way of screening potential participants in the waiting room. What better way to get the best 8 people around the table than quickly discussing the pre-group assignment with them before the groups. (An added bonus: As clients request more and more from a two hour group, a pre-group assignment helps free up valuable group time.)

While the pre-group assignment can play an important role in the success of a qualitative research project, four key success factors should be considered:

  1. Tell the recruitment team about the homework upfront and whenever possible give the homework as early on as possible.
  2. Offer a slightly higher incentive that takes into account the extra pre-group work that participants are undertaking.
  3. Keep it fun, relevant and thought-provoking in order to get recruitees thinking about the subject or category to be discussed. Remember that you are setting the tone for the groups to come.
  4. Tie it into the discussion, by asking them to present or discuss their assignment so that they put in the maximum effort to impress their peers and the moderator.