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Table 3 Summary of recruitment challenges we encountered and suggested solutions

From: Recruiting ‘hard to reach’ parents for health promotion research: experiences from a qualitative study

Recruitment challenge Potential solution
Recruiting insufficient numbers in locality of research institutions and therefore needing to recruit nationwide Ensure considerations and resources for travel or alternatively online data collection are built into grants applications, research protocols and timelines [17]
Consider inclusion of a Public and Patient Involvement (PPI) panel to advise all aspects of the study, including recruitment [18]
Difficulty adhering to research timelines due to unsuccessful early recruitment efforts Ensuring flexibility in terms of time and contingency plans, and
Allowing for transcription and data analysis to run concurrently with further recruitment and data collection [19]
Challenges with capturing the attention and interest of gatekeepers during initial contact and building rapport Contact by phone and not email
Utilising existing connections where possible
Providing study information as succinctly as possible
Consider offering resources, data collection relevant to the goals of the organisation, or expertise [20] (in our case infant feeding workshops/information) to allow a sense of reciprocal input
Maintaining buy-in from gatekeepers due to the complicated logistics of carrying out screening questionnaires prior to inviting eligible participants to a focus group, and the possibility of excluding people Avoiding too many steps in the process and pre-empting logistical barriers [20]: consider providing the inclusion criteria with details of pre-arranged focus groups, allowing participants to self-screen. Demographic questionnaires during data collection can be used to measure eligibility
Difficulty recruiting via social media compared with other routes: difficult to find appropriate groups/pages to target, with correct demographic and sufficient reach Consider whether sponsored advertisements on social media may be helpful, and build this into research budget
Approaching group/page administrators to post material the group to engender sense of legitimacy and relevance [21]
Identifying social media ‘champions’ who could assist in online dissemination [22]
In areas with limited organisations to contact for recruitment (such as NI), there was a risk of research fatigue among those who are regularly approached for research Consider whether collaboration with another research study to combine data collection for answering multiple research questions is feasible, while carefully assessing burden on the participant
Seasonality of services and participant availability e.g. parent group closing for the summer Make a list of organisations and their schedules early on so approaching those who are seasonal can be prioritised [23]
Approaches used successfully recruited female parents/carers but did not result in recruitment of fathers/male carers Additional and specific recruitment efforts for recruiting male parents should be researched and planned in advance, where fathers/male carers are explicitly invited [24]