Nobody wants to be in my research

I’ve just started a new job as a research assistant on an educational project. In the future I will be interviewing teachers, parents and pupils in schools located across five areas of the country. The interview schedule has already been designed but my job between now and the end of the month is to recruit schools to the project.

My boss is away for a conference and expects me to have done this by their return. I have not done this kind of work before. So far I have used the Internet and phone directory to locate schools and I’ve written to around 70 schools explaining the project and asking them to email back if they can help. Nobody has responded.

I don’t know what to do next. Is it ethical to telephone them? Should I just call direct? Is a letter okay? (The letter is two pages long and introduces the research, its funders and my boss, and outlines what the school would be required to do).

My boss gave me a draft of the letter before they went away so I don’t know if I’m allowed to change it.

I need as many schools signed up as soon as possible. Can anyone help me sort this out please?

4 responses to Nobody wants to be in my research

  1. Anon

    Try again with a shorter letter, long letters are off putting. If they want more info, it can be available on request. Don’t write to the receptionist, go for the top boss in the school. Follow up with a phone call if need be but don’t harass them. Your boss will want you to show initiative, so amend the letter as needed. Approach more schools, the more you ask the more your chances of an answer will increase.

  2. Karen

    There should be an ethics proposal that will explicitly detail the intended procedure for recruitment, and should refer to issues such as follow up phone calls. Is there a co-author on the project who might know where such paperwork is? Locating any submissions to ethics, protocols etc. would probably be my priority.

    It is likely the wording of the letter and/or any associated information sheets was approved by an ethics committee and therefore probably shouldn’t be changed without approval for the amendment.

    Also, this seems like the kind of situation in which your boss would rather have you get in touch than struggle – it’s a conference not a holiday 🙂

  3. Petra

    Agree with comments above. If the letter has been approved as part of the ethics for the project it may be tricky to change it. But if it’s possible to alter it I’d agree with making it shorter, focusing on what the study’s about, how it would benefit the school (pupils, staff and parents), how participation in the study will help others, and about the study team. I’d end the letter by telling them you’ll be phoning them to check if they can take part but give them your contact details in case they want to call you first.

    I would phone all the schools you’ve written to so far and ask to speak to the relevant teacher, head of year, head etc to see if they would be interested in taking part (again assuming there is an ethics application and if one exists this approach has not been ruled out).

    If you get a school involved, ask them if they can recommend other schools/teachers/contacts in the areas where you want to run your study. They may help with an introduction, or if you’re making contact you can say x teacher from y school suggested you might be interested in our study. It may be a particular school isn’t able to help but can recommend others who can.

    I don’t know if you’ve been told to recruit large numbers but since you’re struggling to get anyone I would focus on trying to get a couple of schools on board and then schedule in days in the coming weeks/months where you recruit more alongside your data collection. Not only will this let you ensure you get a wide variety of schools and can target specific schools to get a good range of diverse participants, but it can avoid schools agreeing now but forgetting that six months down the line they said yes. I’d be looking to get an agreement and follow up with doing the interviews etc in pretty quick succession, but check this with your boss as not everyone works in the same way.

    I’d also keep a database of the schools you’ve approached, who you spoke to, and what they said. I’d ensure you also note the dates of correspondence and an idea of how long it’s all taking – because if this is taking you an awful lot of time your boss needs to know that either others have to help or you’ll need to adapt your approach. This may also be relevant based on their reasons for saying ‘no’. And can show that you have been systematic in this approach, even if you didn’t generate many positive responses.

    It’s the start of the academic year in many countries so this may also have a bearing on why people are not responding. Your project may have been designed to fit in with the start of the year and you may be on a tight deadline but it might be that if you’re able to give it a couple of weeks and resume your chasing up on potential participating schools that they’re in a better position to know what’s going on for them and what they can help you with.

    For the record, recruiting schools to research is notoriously difficult and while it can feel demoralising to have no responses back to a study we think is interesting and worthwhile it helps to remember it’s not personal, they’re just busy with other stuff. You may find simply reminding them of the study in a more positive light helps people get on board.

  4. Matthew Greenall

    I agree with the comments above. Also did you contact the governors of the schools? You can normally find their contact details, at least those of the chair of governors, on the school website. I think a lot of governing bodies would be super-keen to promote this as one of their responsibilities is to engage with stakeholders in the school (i.e. teachers, parents, pupils) and they have access via governing body meetings, committees and so on.

    You could also contact the schools partnership advisors / liaisons in the local authority, or if you are also looking at free schools and academies that are part of a trust, contact the trust to speak to their liaison people.

Leave a reply

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.