Successful participant engagement, recruitment, and retention in research studies can be one of the most challenging aspects of conducting research. Effective and efficient engagement, recruitment, and retention strategies are critical to successfully achieving enrollment targets while also prioritizing participant safety, well-being and trust.
This page provides resources, best practices and tools for developing and implementing robust engagement, recruitment, and retention strategies. However, it’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to good planning. In fact, effective engagement, recruitment and retention planning should:
- Take time
- Be proactive
- Start upstream at study design
- Anticipate and account for downstream barriers
- Be data-driven and evidence-based
- Be thoughtful and realistic
- Include input from all relevant stakeholders
- Be participant-centered
- Be resourced appropriately
- Be adjusted as needed
Make use of the resources available to you. Request a free consultation with the Recruitment Innovation Center or consider the Consultations and Help resources available in the “Related Resources” section.
Population or cohort discovery
Participant or patient engagement and recruitment strategies
Once the cohort or population has been identified, recruitment plans should consider which strategies and messaging are most appropriate to engage the intended audience, while also adhering to Federal Regulations and institutional policies and guidance.
Before you can recruit identified potential participants, you must first engage them. Engagement, in this sense, is about delivering content to the right person, at the right time, with the right frequency, through the most effective channel.
True stakeholder engagement should happen as early in the study design process as possible. However, that’s not always an option when Duke is a participating site in “someone else’s research study” – when this is the case, we think of engagement as the strategies you will use to share information about your study with potential participants. This may include one or more of the following “channels”
- Social media (e.g., Facebook ads)
- Print media (e.g., flyers, brochures, etc.)
- Online/digital content (e.g., a study website or search engine ads)
- Radio or TV spots
- Letters or emails
- Phone scripts for personal phone calls
- MyChart messages
Advertising Tools, Regulations, Policies and Guidance
Advertising, regardless of the channel(s) you have chosen to use, must follow Federal Regulations, Duke policies and branding requirements. Links below provide information about allowable typography, colors, use of logos and additional tools, including a self-service mechanism for generating print materials.
- DUHS Brand Center
- School of Medicine Brand Guidelines
- Duke University Brand Guide
- DOCR Social Media Recruitment SOP
Discover Duke Research
The Recruitment Innovation Center manages the Discover Duke Research Facebook page and offers free social media marketing consults to all Duke Researchers. During your social media marketing consult you can expect to begin drafting a social media marketing plan that you may submit to the IRB for approval. You may choose to have the RIC launch your ads from the Discover Duke Research page or you may launch them from another approved social media channel per the Duke Social Media Recruitment SOP. If you choose to use the Discover Duke Research Facebook page, all you pay for are the ads themselves. Other RIC services (e.g., assisting you in development of your social media marketing plan, pulling licensed imagery from the image library, managing your campaign, etc.,) are free of charge.
Request your social media marketing consult today.
Review other available Policies, Procedures and Guidance in the "Related Resources" section of this page.
Duke Health Clinical Trials Directory
The Recruitment Innovation Center manages content on the Duke Health Clinical Trials Directory. To have your study posted on the Directory, we recommend first reviewing the SIP Console Training in LMS (course #00129901) before reaching out to the RIC for assistance (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Literacy and Readability
Engagement, recruitment and retention planning should take into consideration best practices for literacy, numeracy, and health literacy as well as principles of good readability. Principles of readability and tailoring to the health literacy needs of your population include adherence to the following principles:
- Responsibility: Clear research communication is the responsibility of all stakeholders in the research enterprise
- Life Cycle Adherence: All research communication should be clear and easy to comprehend throughout the research life cycle
- Partnership: Research communication should be developed in partnership with the intended audience(s)
- Cultural Sensitivity and Respect: are integral to clear communication about research
- Tailoring: Research materials for participants should integrate literacy and health literacy practices, including plain language, numeracy, visualization and design techniques, and cultural considerations
- Evaluation: Participant research materials should be evaluated to ensure the intended audience can understand the information
- Confirmation: In-person communication should encourage dialogue and confirm understanding
- Institutional Support: All stakeholders in the institutional research enterprise should support the development and implementation of organization policies that integrate literacy, numeracy and principles of good readability
Plain Language Mini Consults
The Recruitment Innovation Center offers Plain Language Mini Consults that will provide you with a lay-summary of your research, bulleted statements and taglines that you can use in your advertising materials and a lay-friendly concise summary of your project that you can use in your informed consent form. Request your Plain Language Summary today.
Participant and patient engagement resources
Patient Advisory Councils and Patient Engagement Studios
The Recruitment Innovation has expertise in patient engagement techniques, including the training, orienting and coordination of Patient Advisory Councils. They also coordinate the myRESEARCHpartners Patient Advisory Council, a group of trained and empowered patient research advocates who offer Patient Engagement Studios. Bring your research idea or materials to the PAC to obtain feedback, insight, advice and the lived experience of real patients in order to ensure your research plans and materials are patient-centered, lay-friendly and feasible for busy people embedded in dynamic social, personal and professional lives. Complete this request form for a free myRESEARCHpartners Patient Engagement Studio.
Patient Advisory Council Development, Training and Coordination
Would you like to develop a patient advisory council for your research study, portfolio or therapeutic area? Learn how to recruit, train and empower a group of patients to help make your research more patient-centered. Contact Jamie Roberts (Jamie.Roberts@duke.edu) to learn more.
Engagement, Recruitment, and Retention Certificate Program
The Engagement, Recruitment, and Retention Certificate Program is a certificate and skills-building program designed for Clinical Research study teams. The intention of the program is to help staff develop and expand competency in participant engagement, recruitment, and retention.
Participant Retention Strategies
Good retention starts with a strong, feasible, well-considered engagement and recruitment plan and a participant-centered research study. Many a study has been derailed by inadequate attention to recruitment and retention barriers and lack of effective strategies to overcome them.
Approaching recruitment and retention by ensuring your protocol is participant-centered will enhance your chances of a successfully completed study that finishes enrollment on time with a strong retention rate. Being participant-centered requires you to consider every element of the project from the perspective of a participant and a variety of other characteristics (e.g., relevance of the study question to them, motivation (altruism, compensation, access to novel therapy, etc.), disease state, therapeutic options and opportunity costs, etc.). Adopting both a participant-focus and a quality-by-design framework can help you examine your study objectives and identify the factors that are critical to achieving them, while minimizing the burden of participation for participants. In terms of recruitment and retention, this should ( at minimum) include attention to the following:
- Eligibility criteria – each criterion should be reviewed for its importance to achieving the study aims, its effect on the availability of the population and its acceptability to providers, participants and (if applicable) patient advocacy organizations.
- Accrual feasibility – does the study population as described actually exist? Is there one (or more) particular criteria that will weed out a large number of potential participants? Are there adjustments to the eligibility criteria that should be made?
- Adequate compensation – not all studies have the option of compensating participants. However, it’s important to consider the time, effort and hassle participants are enduring to give you the gift of their participation in your study. Compensation in the form of money, expense reimbursement (e.g., travel, parking, meals), meaningful/useful tchotchkes or give-aways, etc., are all appropriate methods of compensating participants.
- Study procedures and event schedules – are the study procedures, including their invasiveness and risks, length and frequency of visits and location of participation particularly burdensome for the target population?
- Feasibility in the clinic – examine the study from the perspective of providers and clinic staff and their daily clinic operations. Will your study impact their clinic workflow? Engage them early in study design to mitigate against this risk; otherwise, ensure you are flexible enough to minimize disruption.
- Reducing the burden of participation – research participants are often busy people, deeply embedded in dynamic personal lives. Your research study is your job, not theirs. Providing flexible appointment times, short visits, and convenient locations for in-person study visits can ensure that it’s easy for your participants to remain in your study. Consolidate visits when possible and provide “remote” options when feasible.
- Clear, frequent communication – Well-timed communication, including study visit reminders, via participant-preferred methods (SMS, email, phone call), an updated website, newsletters about study progress and milestones achieved, etc. are all good ways to keep participants engaged and interested in your study. Share lay summaries of what you’re learning along the way, especially if you publish an abstract or a poster about the project.
- An attitude of humble gratitude – People are not required to participate in your research. Their participation is a gift to be appreciated. Frequent communication of your gratitude and recognition of the time and effort participants are sharing with you is often cited by participants as important to their continued participation. A commitment to providing a lay-summary of your study results at the end of the study is a great way to demonstrate your appreciation and turn your research participants into research evangelists.
Through Innovation, Connections, Collaborations and Education, the Recruitment Innovation Center is here to help you with your recruitment needs. For assistance and support across the enterprise, reach out to the RIC at email@example.com or request a consult today.