Talking recruitment challenges and strategies with UB researchers

ub behavioral medicine table.

Recruitment materials shared by UB's Child Health and Behavior Lab (HABLAB) at a Good for the Neighborhood community event. Photo courtesy of HABLAB.

Published November 18, 2020

Lily McGovern.
“The CTSI team helped us broaden our own recruitment plan and access additional resources, ensuring that our study information was accessible to diverse populations throughout the region.”
Lily McGovern
stephanie anzman-frasca.
“Continuous, bidirectional conversations are valuable for furthering our mission of conducting research that can promote healthy behaviors for children and families in an equitable manner.”
Stephanie Anzman-Frasca, PhD

As outlined in the accompanying story, overcoming recruitment challenges requires creativity and planning. The Child Health and Behavior Lab (HABLAB) team led by Stephanie Anzman-Frasca, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, understands those challenges — and how to find solutions.

HABLAB, a research laboratory within UB’s Division of Behavioral Medicine, conducts studies that aim to make healthy behaviors easier for children and families. Anzman-Frasca and her research team have worked closely with the recruitment team at UB’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, including Clinical Recruitment Coordinator Briana Getman, MSW, and Community Recruitment Liaison Danielle Abramo-Balling. Here, HABLAB Project Coordinator Lily McGovern and Anzman-Frasca discuss their work, the importance of recruitment, and how the team achieved its enrollment goals.

Can you explain the two studies you consulted with the CTSI recruitment team on, the “Read With Me” and “Grocery Shopping” studies?

LM: Our lab’s studies generally aim to make healthy behaviors, including healthy eating, easier for children and families. The goal of the “Read With Me” study was to test the feasibility and initial efficacy of a home-based parenting intervention aimed at promoting positive parent-child interactions as a way to reduce children’s reinforcing value of food.

SA-F: In other words, the idea is that, by making parent-child interactions more positive and rewarding, children might be more likely to choose time playing with a parent over tasty snack foods (when they are not hungry).

LM: In this pilot study, children between the ages of four and five visited our lab to play games and earn snacks or time reading with their parents. They also received at-home activities and surveys.

SA-F: This study was funded by UB’s Research Institute on Addictions and the Buffalo Blue Sky program, and some of its findings were recently published in the journal Appetite. The main aim of the “Grocery Shopping” study is to promote healthier grocery shopping behaviors among adults. This ongoing study occurs remotely without the need for in-lab visits. Our study sample includes adults at risk of, or diagnosed with, Type 2 diabetes who shop at Tops or Wegmans stores. Participants are randomly assigned to grocery shop as they normally would or to engage in online grocery shopping with or without their online shopping carts pre-filled with healthy foods. They then grocery shop weekly at Tops or Wegmans and complete phone interviews and forms, so that we may learn more about what choices they make while grocery shopping.

What led you to reach out to the recruitment team?

LM: Our lab appreciates opportunities to collaborate with university and community partners to enhance study recruitment. We continually strive to incorporate new recruitment strategies into our work and aim to recruit diverse samples. Because the “Grocery Shopping” study sample and methods were a bit different from our typical in-person studies of young children, we were especially eager to engage with the CTSI recruitment team to brainstorm recruitment strategies for this project.

What type of feedback did you receive from the team?

LM: We met with Brianna and Danielle for numerous consultations and together developed a recruitment plan that fit our goals and populations of interest. After our team explained the study eligibility criteria, Briana and Danielle were able to offer advice and resources for advertisements, participant communication, and engagement with underrepresented groups. We learned about online recruitment avenues, such as the Buffalo Research Registry, that allowed us to reach hundreds of potentially interested volunteers in our local community. They also offered strategies to bolster our social media presence.

Which strategies did you end up trying?

LM: Between both the “Read With Me” and “Grocery Shopping” studies, we have utilized the following resources from the CTSI "Recruitment Resources Toolkit": the Buffalo Research Registry, ResearchMatch, i2b2, the Conventus main waiting room research table, and social media advertising.

Did these strategies have the impact you were hoping for?

LM: The “Grocery Shopping” study posed an interesting constellation of challenges, which necessitated some minor alterations to our recruitment methods and timeline. The CTSI Community Engagement Team worked with us to adjust and offered adaptive guidance along the way. In particular, our increased online presence increased our study recruitment. After working through some recruitment challenges, as well as adaptations necessitated by COVID-19, we are happy to report that we will wrap up data collection for the study this month and have achieved our recruitment targets.

Would you recommend recruitment consultations to other researchers? Why?

LM: Yes! The CTSI team helped us broaden our own recruitment plan and access additional resources, ensuring that our study information was accessible to diverse populations throughout the Buffalo-Niagara region. We think researchers can and should continually seek new and innovative ways to reach potential participants, especially in the era of COVID-19, where direct participation in community events is less feasible than it was previously. There are various online tools that can be leveraged, and it would be interesting to think about ways to continue to increase the diversity of participants who are aware of and are engaged with these tools.

SA-F: We have been collecting recruitment data throughout our current work, including asking where participants heard about our study, and so there could also be opportunities for feedback from researchers to continue to enhance the recruitment team’s knowledge of which strategies are working best for different types of study populations. We believe such continuous, bidirectional conversations are valuable for furthering our mission of conducting research that can promote healthy behaviors for children and families in an equitable manner. We are grateful for the resources that the CTSI provides, which can aid researchers in achieving such goals.

See accompanying story featuring insights from the CTSI recruitment team on how researchers can overcome recruitment challenges and reach enrollment goals.