Recruiting Participants

The priority in Phase 3 of the From Boys to Men project was to examine the research questions in greater detail than in the previous phases (which focussed rather on breadth than depth), hence in-depth interviewing was chosen as the most appropriate method. The aim was to recruit 30 young men (based on feasibility relating to budget and time constraints within the research specification), aged between 16 and 21, who had experienced domestic violence as either victim, perpetrator or witness to take part in an in-depth interview. However, recruiting willing participants was perhaps the most challenging part of the From Boys to Men project.

The recruitment process

  • Initially, the young person would be approached through an agency contact, who would alert them to the study.
  • The researcher would then meet the young person to explain as fully and clearly as possible, and in terms easily understood by the participants, what the research was about, what being involved entailed, why the research was being undertaken, how confidentiality would be maintained and what would be done with the research findings.
  • Once the young person had fully understood what taking part involved and agreed to the interview, a location, date and time would be agreed.

Recruitment constraints

Recruiting participants proved difficult, nonetheless, for a range of reasons:

First, the research team’s recruitment strategy relied heavily on the good will and help of practitioners. Some of those who helped to recruit participants appeared to be much better at securing compliance than others. Commitment to the aims of the project and good working relationships with client groups appeared to play a role in how successful individual practitioners were in introducing the researchers to prospective participants.

Second, unfortunately, not everyone who offers to talk to prospective participants about the research remembers to do so, and not all of those who do remember, do the job well. On many occasions, the researchers were introduced to participants who had not seen the information sheets in advance. In some instances, the researchers met prospective participants with poor literacy or who could not read at all, who had received the information sheets but needed help to make sense of them. In such instances it is critical to ensure that consent is fully informed and this is unlikely to be resolved simply through the presentation and signing of consent sheets. Genuine care needs to be taken to make sure that participants understand what is being asked of them, that they understand that participation is voluntary and that they can leave the interview at any time without consequence. For further guidance on seeking informed consent see: The document used with participants in the From Boys to Men project to explain what the study was about, what specifically was being asked of participants, and what would happen to the information disclosed can be found in Research Materials. This document is free for you to adapt and use for your own purposes if you wish.

Third, many of the young men who were asked if they wanted to participate, decided not to. The research was explained to many more young men than the number who eventually took part. ‘No shows’ were also a regular occurrence – for reasons we can only speculate about. Others were more explicit about their reasons for not taking part including: not wanting to disclose experiences to strangers, hesitance about talking to people from the university, nervousness about being recorded, wanting to ‘move on’ in one’s life, and concern about the limits to confidentiality. Additionally, a number of young men decided not to take part, claiming that they did not have experiences of domestic violence to talk about, despite the professionals working with them knowing to the contrary. Not all of those who experience abuse in teenage relationships, whether as victims or perpetrators, see themselves as involved in ‘domestic violence’. This can make it difficult to recruit those who are sensitive about such terminology and/or ashamed to be associated with it.

Fourth, there were limits in what could be done to increase participation. In most instances, the research team were able to offer a £10 voucher for music or groceries to compensate participants for their time (see Ethical Considerations in offering such compensation). More generally, the team always offered to interiew people in the buildings where they were used to going, so the research was conducted in a familiar environment. They also offered to meet participants in advance, giving the young men the opportunity to find out about the research and to ask questions before they committed to taking part. However, the researchers were unable to offer significant incentives for participating and some prospective participants probably felt that, given the unpredictability about what taking part would entail, it simply was not worth it.

Ultimately, the recruitment process was longer than initially planned, commencing in June 2011 and concluding over 18 months later in December 2012. A far wider range of organisations were contacted – 70 in total – spanning a much wider geographical area than originally envisaged . The organisations contacted included both national and local groups working with young people and families and were within the criminal justice, health, youth, education and housing sectors, among others. Nine out of the 70 organisations contacted were, in the end, able to facilitate contact with young men who took part in the interviews. These were overwhelmingly criminal justice agencies.  Perhaps surprisingly, organisations working more directly in the area of domestic violence – specialist domestic violence services, independent domestic violence advisors (IDVAs), victim support services, relationship counselling services  – typically reported that they had no or very limited contact with young men aged between 16 and 21.

Follow this link for Reflections on the recruitment process.