OPINION25 January 2016

Panel Beating

Charities Opinion UK

Are panel respondents more likely to complete surveys when altruism is a factor? Vivi director Julian Misell is in the process of finding out

Millions give up their time each year to participate in opinion polls and surveys. Such people are the lifeblood of the market research industry.

Despite this, as market researchers we seem to give surprisingly little thought to what motivates so many to share their opinions with us. But we know from academic literature as well as practical experience that paying people (especially upfront) is effective.  As a result, much survey data stems from large online panels of people who are financially rewarded for for their time.     

This approach is, however, under growing pressure, with research companies finding it increasingly difficult to recruit panellists and retain their interest over time. Consequently, while the somewhat apocalyptic predictions of the demise of online panels may be premature, change is nonetheless in the air.

To reinvent itself the panel industry firstly needs take a step back to better understand the intrinsic factors that motivate survey participants, assessing why they find contributing to surveys satisfying, or not as the case may be. 

We can hypothesise that people join panels for any number of reasons. Some simply take pleasure in sharing their opinions, on some topics at least, and in other instances they may feel a sense of duty to complete surveys, to help make things better or share the benefit of their experience. It’s clearly not just the money.

However, as researchers we repeatedly undermine our relationship with these willing survey-takers by subjecting them to long, dull questionnaires (guilty as charged) for a paltry reward, and sometimes rejecting them in an offhand fashion for failing to meet recruitment criteria.

In short, we successfully undermine both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, a sure-fire recipe for attrition. And ironically, rather than harnessing technology to engage people in research by making it more interesting and easy, we seem rather to have deployed it to increase panelist commoditisation, so intensifying the current malaise.

A panel powered by altruism?

Against this backdrop, research agency Vivi was born in response to a simple question: is there another way to motivate people to complete surveys?  We believe there is. Perhaps.

Our panel consists of people who complete surveys in order to raise money for a cause they care about.  So Vivi is in effect a new kind of giving channel, a convenient way for people to raise funds for charity by completing surveys.

This has significant implications for our relationship with our panellists. When people give to charity it is not simply a transactional relationship, it becomes a way for them to express their values and identity – to complete numerous surveys you have to genuinely care about a cause. We have to respect that by keeping panellists informed about the positive impact their time is having in concrete terms, with regular updates from the charities they support. This is, in effect, their reward.

It’s still early days for us, so we can’t draw any firm conclusions about the benefits and pitfalls of a panel powered by altruism.  But we are in the process of growing a large, diverse and engaged community of respondents. What’s more, we’ll be raising significant sums for partner charities.

Can altruism work? I’d welcome your views.

1 Comment

5 years ago

Certainly altruism does work. Many panels have taken advantage of this strategy for years by allowing their panelists to donate their earnings to charities of their choice. The issue is, however, that altruism isn't a universal motivator. Some people are motivated by altruism, others by cash, others by alleviating boredom. The trick is to be able to provide personalized motivators so that a broad, more representative range of people participate in any given project.

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