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The use of appropriate incentives

Many research organisations offer incentives to participants who take part in a project.

This incentive may take various forms. It can be cash, a gift or a gift card given to each participant after the interview, or a donation to a charity or cause of the participant’s choice. It can be an incentive for every participant or entry in a prize draw.

I recently came across an instance where participants were offered an incentive, but it turned out to be a reward for a test of skill – at the end of the survey they were asked to submit an answer to a question and told that the best answers would receive an incentive.

The Professional Standards Committee discussed this and concluded that it is not appropriate to use a test of skill to decide which participant/s will receive an incentive. The intention of an incentive is to motivate response and thank people for participation in the project, not to reward skill.

So, all participants in the project must be treated fairly and equally. If participants are offered a choice of incentive, then all incentive options should be of equal value, to avoid any adverse effect to the participant by their choice. A test of skill does not do this.

Incentives should be proportionate to the type and scale of project being undertaken: not so large that they can be seen as a form of inducement or bribe and not too low.

They should also be appropriate for the participants in the project. Particular care must be taken when determining what incentives to use for children and young people.

Incentives should not be a reward for a test, the client’s products or services, or vouchers for them. The latter potentially confuses the purpose of the project and could be seen as direct marketing. There are occasional exceptions to this, for communities or panels of people with specific interests.

The incentive must not take the form of a discount or other benefit that the participant can only receive by buying something: for example, a discount on the price of a product if the participant buys it. This contravenes Rule 8 of the Code of Professional Behaviour, as the participant is adversely affected by having to spend money to receive the incentive.

Further information can be found in The Research SocietyGuideline on incentives for participation in research’, available on the website under standards. *Note, This Guidelines is not publicly available. Access is available to Members & Partners of The Research Society only.

Author: Jane Gregory, Professional Standards Officer, The Research Society

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The Research Society is the peak body for research, insights and analytics professionals in Australia. It has a diverse membership of individuals at all levels of experience and seniority within agencies, consultancies, client-side organisations, the non-profit and government sectors, support services as well as institutions and the academic community. As well as over 2,000 individual members, the Research Society has 125+ company and client partners, with the number continuing to grow. The Research Society research professionals and company partners commit to and are regulated by the Research Society Code of Professional Behaviour.