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Defining the "Value" of Being a Research Participant

Research participants (scouts) share the top five non-monetary motivations they have for participating in user research, and how you can move from transactional to relational in your dscout designs.

Words by Karen Eisenhauer, Visuals by Jarred Kolar

Without users, there can't be user research. More important still is fostering a relationship with the folks who make our experiences, products, and services possible.

Moving from an extractive, transactional approach to research (e.g., give me your insights and earn money in return) to a participatory, relational one (e.g., let's reach back out to folks and check in on that update) builds trust and puts into action the idea of "whole human" design.

Using a series of short, mixed-method surveys called Express missions, we investigated what studies participants have enjoyed enjoyed the most, and what about those studies were so valuable. It turns out, there’s a lot more than just money that participants value.

By balancing value to your stakeholders with value for your participants, they feel seen and are motivated to share data that can create stronger insights.

We’ll walk through five kinds of value scouts reported finding in missions. Additionally, you'll find to maximize value for scouts so that they return the favor in kind and give you higher quality data.

Note: Although the finding here were sourced from a remote research platform, they can apply to just about any approach. Throughout, we use the term "scouts" for participants and "mission" for studies.

Jump to:

  1. Knowledge
  2. Impact
  3. Novelty
  4. Reflection
  5. Connection

1. Knowledge

We often think of scouts as sources of knowledge for our products or experiences. But knowledge is actually a two-way street.

Scouts love using dscout because they also gain interesting knowledge about their favorite products and experiences. The knowledge values leans into scouts' natural curiosity and hunger for learning about and trying new things...especially to make the experiences they already use better or more accommodating.

"I really enjoyed trying the product. I gained knowledge of an upcoming product that could possibly come onto the market. I will know about it before anybody else!"

Kelli P.

"I gained a more fun understanding of the music apps I use and learned how they interact with my preferences to make suggestions."

Alana M.

Tips to maximize "knowledge" value:

  • Give people optional context on your study or on the product
  • Provide people optional links to learn more
  • Tell people why you’re asking certain questions
  • Recruit people who will be interested in the product or experience you are offering
  • If you’re running a branded study on an upcoming feature, emphasize a VIP angle
  • Share back your findings with the scouts, if possible
  • Share insights or quotes from other scouts (with permission)
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2. Impact

One of the biggest reasons scouts love dscout is because they feel like they can really make a difference when it comes to products and services they care about. It’s all too common to feel powerless in this world.

dscout has the ability to make people feel like their opinions are seen, valued, and actually impactful. Our original tagline was "Make stuff better" and even though we don't use it very often, that ethos drives many scouts to vie for missions.

"It made me feel that I had to say and my opinion really meant something. The concepts were fine and I was able to really think deeply about what was said."

Michelle F.

"What made the research project particularly enjoyable was the fact that it felt good to assess, give my opinions, and give constructive criticism to the various designs on the research project."

Lucent M.

"Having a voice and it being heard. Knowing that my influence may make a difference in others experiences with the sites"

Sosie M.

This is particularly potent in moderated Live missions. When scouts have the opportunity to actually see the interpersonal impact of what they’re doing, that is a memorable and meaningful experience. User experience researchers—as well as executives—love 1:1s and it's clear from these data that scouts do, too.

"The biggest thing I gained from the experience was the feeling of having potentially influenced a company to be the sort of thing I would want to participate in!

Especially because in this case the initial way that they were framing the company was something that would have been unappealing to me, and through our conversation, we landed on a few different marketing angles and ways of organizing the company that I know would be exciting for me and a bunch of people in my community.

The researcher seemed pretty obviously excited about the conversation we had had, it was a genuinely fun way to spend an hour."

Samantha F.

Tips to maximize "impact" value:

  • Consider co-creation activities
  • Emote. Try to connect personally and thank them as a researcher
  • If you can, tell or demonstrate how their opinion is going to be used
  • Emphasize in your messaging how uniquely qualified they are to give feedback
  • If you can, send them a follow-up about what actions were taken as a result of the study
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3. Novelty

Scouts love the opportunity to try new things. This benefit comes primarily from studies where scouts are asked to try one or more new products, or to experiment with a variety of services.

It’s easy to fall into a routine, and dscout provides the incentive to inject something fresh and new. Scouts told us that some of their favorite new elements of their lives are the direct results of dscout studies and that they wouldn’t have had them otherwise.

"I got to use a product I probably otherwise wouldn't have. I was given the product to keep, and I love having a Google Home in my house. I also got paid a pretty good amount for my time and effort. I enjoyed being able to interact with a new product and give my feedback, but it was also a product that has made our lives easier so it was a huge benefit for us."

Aldon M.

"Being able to try a new product and give my opinion was exciting. I got to try something new risk-free."

Jessica S.

"I wanted to try the subscription box but never got around to it. To try it, get paid, and give feedback was exciting. I now get bi-monthly subscriptions and my child does as well. I would likely not have participated in this subscription model without dscout."

Rachel M.

This novelty also applies to new experiences—visiting new locations, trying new foods, or even exploring alternate ways of doing a routine task.

This was a surprising finding to me as a researcher! I always imagined studies where I asked scouts to travel somewhere or buy something to be a chore.

But as it turns out, these studies can actually be a fun novelty for scouts, and in the right conditions, can help create fun new memories with friends and family.

"The back to school shopping mission was super enjoyable because I was able to try out different ways of back to school shopping.

Comparing between different retailers...I was able to see which one really worked best for me and my back to school shopping for my family and that is something that I will be able to keep in mind for the future!"

Kaitlyn B.

"I’d say do more missions that actually require us to do more then just sit on our phones or laptop! I love going out for the missions and diaries."

Quintale F.

Tips to maximize "novelty" value:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask people to get wild! It’s less of a chore than you think.
  • Give people enough time to do the thing - don’t make it stressful
  • Let people know the commitment in the screening process so they’re not taken by surprise
  • Let people experience something first-hand (instead of a picture or a thought experiment)
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4. Reflection

In addition to adding new things into their lives, dscout gives scouts the opportunity to view their current routines in new ways. Sometimes, the act of documenting a routine activity prompts people to critically examine their own lifestyles in a way that positively impacts their lives.

"I like diary missions because they help me get in touch with my own habits or attitudes. I find them to often be beneficial to my daily life."

Adwoa S.

"It was enjoyable because it was already a trip I was planning to take, and a lot of the time I forget to take pictures and record for the memories. This time it will have me record and take the picture I should be taking. It also has me questions why camping is important to my family, which I don’t think of often enough.

Emily L.

"This research was particularly enjoyable because I was exposed to New Concepts relative to the beverage lines but also it allowed me to get a more focused look into the types of beverages I select and even allowed me to reflect on the choices I make within particular moments."

Jay P.

In addition to the documentation, scouts can also benefit from the reflective questions we ask them. It challenges them to consider their own behaviors often in an almost philosophical way. This can be therapeutic, and at times, even shift their own behavior to a place they feel better about.

"The critical thinking involved with participating in that study was very fun and the conversation expanded my awareness."

"It was enjoyable because it helped me to gain insight about how important smart devices have become to my daily living. I like learning about myself, my current situation, and ways I might improve it. In this case, besides the insights, I can now evaluate future smart device decisions more completely and effectively."

Greg B.

"It made me reflect on myself as a teacher. I even got some new ideas from it for the classroom."

Rebecca S.

Tips to maximize "reflection" value:

  • Aim for moments, so scouts can document a behavior over time
  • In those moments, ask them to verbalize what they’re doing and why
  • Ask scouts questions at the end of the study, not only about your product, but about themselves, e.g.:

Is there anything that stood out to you about this week about the way you shop?

What’s one piece of advice that you would give someone in a similar position?

  • Explicitly ask scouts if they learned anything new over the course of the study
  • Share back findings with scouts if they would prompt further reflection
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5. Connection

One of our deepest needs as humans is to connect to one another. In these times, it’s rarer than ever to make new connections. As researchers, we can provide the value of simply being there and listening.

"They weren't following a specific survey script… they invited me in to have an actual conversation with them about that problem and my behaviors in that space. It felt much more like being hired on as a type of consultant partner for an hour then just a data sharing machine."

Samantha F.

Outside of being valuable, connecting with someone can be genuinely fun. Scouts enjoy the experience of talking to someone about something they’re passionate about.

"I really liked the interviewer who I had. She was my age and very relatable and fun. Participating was a really fun experience because she had unique questions and was genuinely interested in my thoughts about it.

I felt that it was mentally refreshing to stretch myself to find the phrases and words to answer her questions."

Hannah J.

"As I stated before, I greatly enjoyed playing the game and having live conversations with the person assigned to interview me. I also enjoyed giving my feedback and feeling as if I contributed to potential changes to the game."

Curtis G.

Tips to maximize "connection" value:

  • Use Live
  • Take time to establish a rapport
  • Use personable language in messaging
  • Communicate frequently
  • Show that you’re listening, not just as a researcher, but as a person
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Whether its reframing a welcome message, restructuring a mission's design, or trying a new tool (like Like or Express), there are several ways you can add value for your participants in ways beyond compensation (which is still critical—pay your folks!). These tactics should not only produce stronger, more insight-rich data, but build stronger, more long-lasting relationships with the folks we depend on to make our products and services possible.

For a supercharged way to move your research from transactional to participatory, try a private panel.

Karen is a researcher at dscout. She has a master’s degree in linguistics and loves learning about how people communicate with each other. Her specialty is in gender representation in children’s media, and she’ll talk your ear off about Disney Princesses if given half the chance.

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