Approaches to Recruiting 'Hard-To-Reach' Populations into Re-search: A Review of the Literature

Health Promot Perspect. 2011 Dec 20;1(2):86-94. doi: 10.5681/hpp.2011.009. eCollection 2011.


Background: 'Hard-to-reach' is a term used to describe those sub-groups of the population that may be difficult to reach or involve in research or public health programmes. Application of a single term to call these sub-sections of populations implies a homogeneity within distinct groups, which does not necessarily exist. Different sampling techniques were introduced so far to recruit hard-to-reach populations. In this article, we have reviewed a range of ap-proaches that have been used to widen participation in studies.

Methods: We performed a Pubmed and Google search for relevant English language articles using the keywords and phrases: (hard-to-reach AND population* OR sampl*), (hidden AND population* OR sample*) and ("hard to reach" AND population* OR sample*) and a consul-tation of the retrieved articles' bibliographies to extract empirical evidence from publications that discussed or examined the use of sampling techniques to recruit hidden or hard-to-reach populations in health studies.

Results: Reviewing the literature has identified a range of techniques to recruit hard-to-reach populations, including snowball sampling, respondent-driven sampling (RDS), indigenous field worker sampling (IFWS), facility-based sampling (FBS), targeted sampling (TS), time-location (space) sampling (TLS), conventional cluster sampling (CCS) and capture re-capture sampling (CR).

Conclusion: The degree of compliance with a study by a certain 'hard-to-reach' group de-pends on the characteristics of that group, recruitment technique used and the subject of inter-est. Irrespective of potential advantages or limitations of the recruitment techniques reviewed, their successful use depends mainly upon our knowledge about specific characteristics of the target populations. Thus in line with attempts to expand the current boundaries of our know-ledge about recruitment techniques in health studies and their applications in varying situa-tions, we should also focus on possibly all contributing factors which may have an impact on participation rate within a defined population group.

Keywords: Hard-to-reach populations; capture-recapture; hidden populations; respondent driven sampling; time-location sampling; time-space sampling.