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But first, why use a research panel?

As a firm that’s as passionate about applied research as we are about finding innovative solutions to big challenges, we’re strong believers in the power of community engagement to drive impactful change. Our in-house research panel, made up of people who sign up voluntarily to take part in research activities like focus groups and user testing, is an important part of this approach. 

Why? We’ll let our Research + Community Engagement Team Lead Stephanie Busch explain: “As researchers, having a panel that we’ve recruited and screened ourselves is so helpful to the work we do with organizations in the population and public health sector. It’s a resource that we can rely on for essential input from people of different backgrounds, whose opinions and motivations mirror those of the people our clients aim to reach.”

We built our research panel to ensure that our work is informed by the people it impacts, and that the solutions we deliver to our clients will truly resonate with the communities they serve.

Growing our panel to meet client needs

As the demand from clients for community-informed solutions has grown, so has our commitment to growing our panel. But expanding this group presents its own set of challenges, especially when it comes to engaging the public in a meaningful way. 

Since we primarily work with organizations and authorities in the health sector, our brand isn’t widely recognized among the general public. So what will motivate someone to click on an ad to join our research panel? What will drive them to sign up and stay engaged? And how can we ensure we continue to recruit voices from diverse communities? These are the questions we asked as we strategized about the best way to grow our panel and enhance our services.

Identifying and addressing gaps in our research panel 

Our in-house research panel was launched in the fall of 2020. We started out by leveraging social media platforms to recruit participants, posting focus group opportunities in Facebook groups and using targeted ads to reach people between the ages of 18 and 65+ living in British Columbia (where many of our clients are based). 

In our early focus group sessions, we noticed that our participants were primarily female, and that two age ranges were overrepresented: people in their 20s, who were often undergraduate or graduate students, and people 55+, who were either self-employed or retired. In other words, people who were more likely to have flexible schedules.

And, while we saw some ethnic diversity among our participants, given that B.C. is the most ethnically diverse province in Canada, we wanted to see greater representation from the different cultural communities with which we regularly engage in our work. 

This need for greater diversity—of age, ethnicity, gender and sexual identity, and ability—drove us to rethink our recruitment strategy for research panel participants. Since popular online advertising platforms like Meta and Google Ads place limitations on targeting specific populations (for good reason), we had to find creative ways to reach the audiences we wanted to join our panel, namely:

  • People with disabilities
  • People of Latinx, African, and Caribbean descent
  • People who identify as LGBTQIA2s+, with a focus on trans and gender diverse people
  • First Nations and Métis people
  • People in rural and remote areas
  • Older millennials (late 30s/early 40s) 

As the public health landscape evolves, the voices of these audiences are increasingly important to our work and that of our clients.

Focusing our recruitment strategy on our audiences

So, how did we double the size of our research panel with one recruitment campaign? We’ve broken it down into four fundamental steps that you can apply to your own targeted marketing efforts. 

After identifying the audiences we wanted to reach, we:

  • Focused on their interests and motivations.

    Getting people to join a research panel for a firm they’ve never heard of can be a tall order. For example, what would motivate a busy parent to take time out of their day to join a focus group? The desire to weigh in on health care initiatives that will affect them and their family? An honorarium for their time? Curiosity about how focus groups work? Once you nail that down, you can use it to inform the assets you create for your campaign.
  • Crafted ad copy tailored to these different audiences.

    We wrote concise and compelling ad copy that would speak to the interests and motivations of our target audiences, and we made sure to sprinkle in some personality to grab people’s attention mid-scroll. 
  • Selected images that reflected the people who we wanted to reach.

    In the past, our digital campaigns to recruit participants for our research panel featured text-based ads with our firm’s logo. These ads motivated some people to click, but when we refined our tactics and incorporated images that showed people from diverse communities—the people we were aiming to reach—engagement with our ads increased significantly.
  • Identified the most appropriate digital platforms for our campaign.

    If you choose your ad platforms wisely, with a focus on your target audience’s online habits and what will give you the largest reach for your budget, you will see results—even with a relatively modest budget. In this case, we chose to run ads on Meta and the Google Display Network. 

Throughout this process, we collaborated closely with our Research + Community Engagement team, who facilitate sessions directly with our panel participants. If you have a team that engages directly with or has extensive insight into your audience’s behaviour and preferences, leveraging their expertise can significantly enhance your campaign strategy and increase your chances of success.

The results speak for themselves

We’ve already mentioned that we doubled the size of our research panel with one campaign and a small budget, but the success of our targeted recruitment efforts goes beyond numbers. Remember, we wanted to ensure that new panel members reflected the diversity of the populations with which our clients work. 

Of those who signed up for our panel and met our eligibility criteria, 11.1% identify as Indigenous, 19.2% are older millennials, 31.3% are located in rural and remote areas, 3.0% identify as LGBTQIA2s+, and 29.3% are of Latinx, African, or Caribbean descent. After we invited some of the new participants to a focus group session, they shared their excitement about joining the panel and how positive their experience was. 

What’s next?

Building on this success is a priority for us, and we’ve already set a goal to double the current number of panel participants that we have by the end of 2024. We plan to incorporate the feedback that we receive from the participants who’ve joined us and improve their experience working with our team. Lastly, we’ll be testing different media channels and tactics to expand our campaign reach.

If you’re interested in learning more about our research panel and how you can use it for your next project, email us at or give us a call. We’d love to chat about how our panel can provide the insights you’re looking for.

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