A venue-based method for sampling hard-to-reach populations

Public Health Rep. 2001;116 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):216-22. doi: 10.1093/phr/116.S1.216.


Constructing scientifically sound samples of hard-to-reach populations, also known as hidden populations, is a challenge for many research projects. Traditional sample survey methods, such as random sampling from telephone or mailing lists, can yield low numbers of eligible respondents while non-probability sampling introduces unknown biases. The authors describe a venue-based application of time-space sampling (TSS) that addresses the challenges of accessing hard-to-reach populations. The method entails identifying days and times when the target population gathers at specific venues, constructing a sampling frame of venue, day-time units (VDTs), randomly selecting and visiting VDTs (the primary sampling units), and systematically intercepting and collecting information from consenting members of the target population. This allows researchers to construct a sample with known properties, make statistical inference to the larger population of venue visitors, and theorize about the introduction of biases that may limit generalization of results to the target population. The authors describe their use of TSS in the ongoing Community Intervention Trial for Youth (CITY) project to generate a systematic sample of young men who have sex with men. The project is an ongoing community level HIV prevention intervention trial funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The TSS method is reproducible and can be adapted to hard-to-reach populations in other situations, environments, and cultures.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Bias
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S.
  • Community Health Planning*
  • Community Participation
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control*
  • Homosexuality, Male* / psychology
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Models, Statistical*
  • Persuasive Communication
  • Primary Prevention*
  • Research Design
  • Safe Sex* / psychology
  • Sampling Studies*
  • Time Factors
  • United States