Giving back to research participants

How can I give back to my research participants?


This is a question that has been in my mind, since I came across the transcript of a talk describing data collection as a gift exchange relationship. I have since lost the link to that talk*, but the main idea was that we should see data (e.g., blood collected, social media data, time to complete a survey or participate in an interview) as a gift from the research participants to the researchers.


Seeing data as gifts, leads on to seeing data collection as a gift exchange. And the principle of gift exchange is that the receiver of the gift should reciprocate with something of value to the giver. Traditionally, this takes the form of money, a voucher, credit for a module (in the US, not in the UK), and/or a report with the research findings. But money and vouchers are costly, and they may induce the wrong behaviour (i.e., attract people who do not really match the criteria that you need); module on credits work for students only and, as far as I know, are not allowed in the UK; and reports are produced long after the research has taken place.


Surely, there are more creative ways of giving back to research participants?!


As I was pondering this question, I bumped into this garden bench, on MIT campus. It is a data collection device for a project investigating the use of outdoor spaces in different weather conditions (more information here).

bench 01.JPG

The benches contain solar powered sensors that detect wireless devices in their neighbourhood. Further, the benches were equipped with USB ports, so that people using the outdoor space and, thus, contributing to the research, can charge their phones or tablets.

bench 02.JPG

This looked, to me, like a great example of gift exchange between the research participants and the research project team. Little additional cost for the team, great value for the research participant.


As I am preparing to collect data for two research projects, I too have been thinking about what I can give back, that is of value to the participants.


In one project, I am investigating how social media may help small organisations obtain customer insight. The aim is to recruit around 10 small organisations. I thought of giving back the following:

  • Customer insight report (about that organisation’s customers, and using social media data, only)
  • Workshop for all organisations participating in the study, demonstrating how to obtain customer insight from social media


In the other project, I am researching what data (and metadata) adults share about children on social media. I am at a loss as to what I can give back.


Do you have any suggestions? What would you value receiving, if you participated in any of these projects (and which does not bankrupt me)?


* If you know the talk that I am referring to, and have the link or reference, please let me know, because I would like to acknowledge the original source.

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