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Online platform streamlines study recruitment, reduces costs

Research Plus Me releases first report detailing usage, future improvements


Two people in front of computers, conducting research.

Finding volunteers to participate in research can be difficult and time-consuming, but a new platform from ASU is bridging that gap. Photo courtesy ASU Knowledge Enterprise

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March 15, 2024

In September 2023, Arizona State University launched a new online platform to bridge the gap between researchers and volunteers.

Research Plus Me, designed and developed with support from the ASU and CommonSpirit/Dignity Health collaboration, allows researchers to post studies that need participants, making it easy for ASU students, alumni, staff and the public to connect with studies on topics that are important to them.

Now, in its first report, the platform is showing marked success.

During its first semester, Research Plus Me hosted 52 studies from nine ASU units, attracting over 1,800 participants who created accounts to explore ongoing research. The platform also recorded more than 8,000 total clicks on the “Join Study” button across all studies.

“That was a great indicator of success,” said Amber Hedquist, Research Plus Me program manager. “People are not only reading, but they are actively trying to join studies. I think it justifies why we created Research Plus Me, which is to connect people to a variety of research studies and allow them to discover ones that interest them.”

For the report, Hedquist also surveyed researchers using the platform. She found that 86% of respondents said they were very likely to use the platform in their next study, while 78% agreed Research Plus Me reduced the time they spent recruiting for their study.

Hedquist, who is also a PhD student in the Department of English’s writing, rhetorics and literacies program, said the platform proved to be a valuable tool for graduate students just beginning research.

“The fact that Research Plus Me is a no-cost resource is really impactful for emerging researchers,” Hedquist said. “Graduate students often lack extensive funding for recruitment, and many lack an existing network to reach out to. While some faculty have existing relationships with community members or organizations for continuous engagement in research studies, emerging researchers often struggle to find, connect and build trusted relationships with diverse participant groups.”

Abdullah Mamun, a computer science doctoral student in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, used Research Plus Me to speed up recruitment for a machine learning study.

“We considered spending money on advertising the user study when we needed more responses,” Mamun said. “But since Research Plus Me is helping us connect to the potential volunteers without cost, we can spend the money to buy the necessary equipment for the lab. Research Plus Me will save months to complete the project and my PhD earlier.”

Read more:

Read more about Mamun’s experience with Research Plus Me on the Graduate College’s blog.

Recruitment speed was not the only benefit researchers found using the platform. The ability to reach specific and hard-to-reach participant populations also proved to be useful for assistant professors Viridiana Benitez and Kelsey Lucca.

Benitez and Lucca are researchers in the Department of Psychology in the The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences who often work with families and children in their studies.

Lucca heads the Emerging Minds Lab, which studies early cognitive development in infants and toddlers. Because her lab works with young children, she said her students have become creative and proactive in reaching participants.

Members of her lab routinely attend community events, hand out fliers at day care centers and child-centric classes, and are also very active on social media. On Instagram, her students created walk-through videos of the lab and profiled lab members to better illustrate and personalize their work to potential participant families.

“It's a very specific demographic, parents with young children, and so it's a little bit more difficult than if you're recruiting adults, for example,” Lucca said. “So Research Plus Me has been one great tool that the graduate students can use in their toolkit of many different recruitment methods that they use.”

Have you used Research Plus Me? Your input can help improve the platform.

As director of the Learning and Development Lab, Benitez studies language and cognitive development in infants, children and adults, so she spends a lot of time doing community outreach to find participants for her work. She was eager to try Research Plus Me as an avenue for participants to learn more about her lab’s studies.

“I think the ASU name goes a long way when parents hear about science and research, especially with children,” she said. “They might be a little wary, but if they have a nice platform where it has digestible information to view what the research study entails, they can get the information that they need to decide for themselves if this is something that want to partake in and that they want their child to partake in as well.”

In addition to the credibility the platform lends, Benitez found Research Plus Me beneficial to her work in other ways.

“From a researcher side, usability has been pretty straightforward,” Benitez said. “Getting it through the IRB process, figuring out how to put in all the details that might be relevant for someone to look at in order to decide whether to participate — that has been streamlined really nicely so that it's not a huge undertaking to be able to post a study on your platform. So from that perspective, it's been really, really amazing.”

The Research Plus Me team looks to continually improve the platform for both participants and researchers.

With funding from ASU’s Graduate and Professional Student Association, Hedquist is collecting feedback on the user experience from the perspective of both participants and researchers.

“We’ll be able to use these recommendations moving forward to adapt this platform,” Hedquist said. “It will be really interesting to compare what participants want and need in the platform versus what researchers want and need in the platform. I'm excited to see what that data shows.”

Research Plus Me was created by ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise, with significant contributions from community members and ASU researchers. For more information, contact info@researchplus.me.

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