The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Thinking

Feedback from the coalface on repeat attendance

We sought your views on the BMRB study on repeat attendance, talking to researchers, field personnel and clients. These are the responses:

Researchers

Lucy Golding, Carne Martin:

'Consumers are more marketing literate than ever before, and it would be naïve to presume that someone who has not been to a group before will be less aware of the marketing process than someone who has. As experienced researchers we use our skills not just to report back, but to understand and interpret responses, and to work with respondents to generate ideas. Recruiting people who are genuinely interested in helping us do this is critical. It is, therefore, probably not an issue if a respondent has been to a group, say, once or twice before, as long as they fit the recruitment criteria.

It is a problem, however, if a respondent is regularly attending groups and/or is lying about who they are in order to do so. He or she may be jaded, cynical, overly negative, or at worst lie about what they really think. As an industry, our focus should be to tackle the problems of serial repeat attendance and fraud. One of the things we should be considering is whether an industry standard on attendance would assist with the former of these issues.'

Peter Dann, The Way Forward:

'There's no denying that repeat attendance is an issue, if only because it is one of those elements that can so easily be used by qual's detractors to question the credibility of the whole industry.

Generally, however, we don't mind seeing familiar faces in groups ­ they're more relaxed, more confident and, in most cases, I don't believe that their response is affected by repeat attendance. If you need virgin respondents, you should say so, and allow time to recruit them; but if you don't specify, you shouldn't complain.

It's that 1% that we should be concerned about. To go to that many groups, you have to lie a great deal. But I'm sure, as a result, that these people are simply not found in mainstream, well-recruited groups. And that's why I take issue with the presentation of the findings.'

Field personnel

Liz Sykes, Field Initiatives:

'Repeat attendance is always seen as a bad thing. How many times do field managers hear: "I'm sure I recognised some faces in that group and it made me worried about the recruitment"? Repeat attendance seems to spark off a gut reaction of panic and worry that something underhand is going on and that everyone is in on it except the researcher.

The reality is that areas get saturated very quickly as only a small proportion of the population are willing to take part in research, plus we are very strict on the types of people we recruit. In any area over 65s or Es would be under-researched.'

Trudy Walsh and Fiona Welch, Quality Fieldwork & Research Services:
'Repeat attendance, in itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. People having previously attended a group will not normally let a recruiter down by non-attendance, and will be immediately relaxed and ready to get on with the discussion.

Controls are necessary, however, with a minimum of perhaps three months between attendances. Otherwise respondents tend to get to know the ropes too well, to become blasé. We would comment on the finding that only 1% of those who had been to groups admitted to having attended many groups. The operative word is "admitted".'

Clients

John McGill, Barclaycard:

'As a client, I am interested in getting our customers' views on a particular topic. To some extent, the fact that they have been to groups previously could be unimportant. For example, if the topic was about the way they were handled when they made contact with our customer services then their views are still valid, regardless of group attendance, occupation or any other reason for exclusion.

There are many reasons why groups have to be re-run, including the failure of enough people to turn up or some particularly disruptive influences. I can't think of any occasions where repeat attendance had such a devastating effect that the group had to be abandoned. The BMRB study may help to reassure the industry that it is not an overwhelming problem.'

Michael Harvey, Guinness UDV:

'I am not worried about repeat attendance as long as the people who are attending the group are correctly recruited to the quota required. If, however, repeat attendance is a symptom of poor recruiting then it does worry me ­ like any poor recruiting would.

We should aim not to stamp out repeat attendance but to stamp out poor recruiting. I would go further and say that there is an advantage in repeat attendees, assuming that they are to the right quota, as they may be able to participate more quickly in discussions since they will be more at ease with the social aspects of a group discussion.'

 

Louella Miles
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2001