Identifying who you want to talk to
The identification of who you want to talk to (or defining your ‘sample’) is driven by your research aims and questions. You might want to research your existing audiences, or look for potential new audiences; you might want to develop new opportunities for your business. Stakeholders (e.g. your competitors, other venues, other companies, funders, opinion leaders) might be another group whose opinions you want to gauge. If your sample groups are vulnerable or in need of additional protection (such as young people or adults with additional support needs) you need to make sure you are aware of and working within ethical guidelines. See Research conduct and ethics.
The next stage is finding those people in your identified sample(s). You can do this yourself, or use a professional recruitment company, depending on your research budget.
For a DIY approach you can:
- use your own or your company’s networks
- put out a call on social media or print platforms
- use your company mailing lists and databases
- put out a call at your events or performances
If you DIY, the sample is volunteering to take part in your research, e.g. it is self-selecting. They are likely to be more motivated and invested in your organisation, particularly if you incentivise their participation by offering cash, tickets or a free session - anything you can offer them as a company to thank them for their time. This can also be a down side because you may not be accessing the thoughts and opinions of those harder-to-reach sample groups (who could be potential new audiences). Typically, you would not offer stakeholders a cash incentive as it’s more of a professional relationship.
Using a recruitment company
Although it’s not common in arts organisations, by using a professional (external) recruitment company you can reach people you’re not currently connecting with. It costs money: you pay the company and typically incentivise the participants with cash and a ticket or voucher (another way of getting new audiences), but it can really pay off in reaching new people in a precise and structured way. Recruitment companies would expect you to brief them with a sample specification for example, taking into account age, gender, socio-economic group (e.g. head of household income), interests (e.g. arts, music). Again, this specification would be guided by your research question. It also forces you to think clearly about why you want to engage with certain sample groups.
This kind of professional research sampling can bring fresh thinking into your company and take you in directions that you might not have considered through just talking to existing audiences, stakeholders or users.
How many people?
The size of your sample depends on your overall research aim, the time available, your budget and your capacity to carry out the research. For the results to be meaningful, you need to talk to a sufficient number of people. For example, you would typically look for a minimum of 6-8 in-depth interviews, 6-8 people in a full focus group or 3-4 in a mini focus group. You would ideally conduct 4 focus groups for the findings to be valuable. See the download in Qualitative methods.