Four Proven Ways to Improve Your Impact Study Recruitment Strategy
Written with Julia Bibko, Ed.M.
Whether you’re planning your first impact study or a veteran researcher, effective recruitment is critically important. A large, representative sample is needed to demonstrate the effectiveness of your EdTech product, but this can only happen if schools and districts are willing to participate. The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) released a brief in October 2023 highlighting four key ways researchers can improve their recruitment processes based on the experiences of the authors and district staff who participated in school-based impact studies.
1. Show school leaders that their needs are top of mind.
Schools and districts are far more likely to participate in impact studies that address the issues they’re experiencing on the ground. IES recommends interviewing key stakeholders (educators, students, parents, or community members) to identify their top priorities and using this information to determine which schools are the best fit for the planned study. Researchers can also narrow the study focus as a result of these conversations.
Once the top priorities have been identified, it is equally important to communicate to schools and districts how the study aligns with them. Consider utilizing trusted local partners or former educators to lead these conversations with potential study participants. Another strategy is to find possible “champions” for your study, which the IES brief describes as district staff or administrators who are “invested in the study’s area of focus” and are in a position to influence their district’s decision to participate. Additionally, think about what your company can offer to school staff in addition to the primary intervention, such as technical support or training, to ensure their concerns are addressed.
2. Anticipate changes in capacity based on staffing challenges.
It’s no secret that schools and districts are struggling to hire and retain teachers right now. To ensure that your study does not become an additional burden for busy teachers and administrators, find out if you can compensate school staff for participating in your study. You should be thoughtful in the implementation of your company’s product or intervention to ensure ease of implementation. For example, adjust your implementation timeline to account for busy times like standardized testing and the beginning or end of marking periods. The brief also recommends streamlining data collection by leveraging data collected by state or federal agencies when possible and being mindful of survey or interview length.
3. Make it clear that fairness and transparency are top priorities.
Understandably, schools may be concerned about the random assignment of their classrooms to treatment and control groups. Be clear in your conversations with district staff about the need for random assignment and, when possible, assign entire schools to the comparison group to limit potential disruptions. Another possibility is to increase the number of teachers or schools in the treatment group, which may make the study more appealing to potential participants, but be aware that this may necessitate a larger sample size and lead to higher study costs.
4. Reassure participants that staff and student data will be protected.
Alleviate concerns about data privacy by detailing how personal information will be used and shared in your study’s memorandum of understanding. Be prepared to accommodate each district’s data policy, rather than relying on a one-size-fits-all approach. The brief also notes that collecting consent forms from staff, students, and other participants takes time and resources, so build this into your study budget from the start. Researchers should also be aware of whether districts require active or passive consent from parents for study participation and plan accordingly.
With these strategies in mind, you’re ready to start recruitment for your next impact study! Strong relationships with study participants are built upon an awareness of and responsiveness to their needs, which ultimately leads to more compelling findings for educators, EdTech companies, and policymakers. For specific examples of these recruitment strategies in practice, read the full IES brief.