The ProofPilot Blog - Design, Launch & Participant in Research Studies

Creating Clinical Trial Participant Personas to Improve Recruitment & Retention

One of our key goals at ProofPilot support research studies participants actually enjoy engaging in (or at least mitigate the stress for those participants who are in a study because they are ill). A key component of creating such a study is determining who your trial participants are. That means beyond their particular interest in your research study.

The first step towards doing so is to create a clinical trial participant persona A marketing persona is a composite description of your target participant group based on validated commonalities.  A persona informs your strategy for participant engagement.

Without personas, it’s easy, as a researcher, to fall back to what we need (the data, the exacting protocol design). Designing a participant persona helps keep us all grounded as we design, launch and engage participants in a study in a way that will delight and attract them.

Create Your Participant Personas: Envision your ideal study participant

Participant personas start with your eligibility or inclusion criteria. But they don’t stop there. Nor do they stop with a set of quantitative demographics. What is your participant interests? What are their daily behaviors? Do they have certain beliefs and biases?

The biggest risk for researchers as they create participant personas is to solely orient the persona around a specific illness, goal or problem that is the subject of your study. While a potential participant, particularly one with an acute illness, may spend an inordinate amount of time and energy to overcome their issues and symptoms, a persona goes beyond. What are their goals if their illness can be treated or issues solved? What defines the participant beyond their illness or issue?

Your participant personas should consider other data points (both qualitative and quantitative) that bring commonalities to your participants. Do they share certain values? Do they have specific tastes as it relates to style and language? Do they share interests in hobbies or activities? Even somewhat ‘touchy-feely’ insights could prove invaluable.

Gather data and information about your ideal participant

There are lots of techniques market researchers use to build participant personas. Very well funded studies may wish to invest in some qualitative market research. However, it’s likely, most studies have enough knowledge themselves to build participant personas.

Many researchers have direct relationships with a small number of ideal participants. They just need more. Use your knowledge of these individuals to inform your thinking. You may also have relationships with providers and support staff who work with your target population every day. Have an informal conversation. You might generate some good ideas.

And of course, the web is an ideal location to learn more about your ideal participant. First person accounts on blog posts and social media can give you everyday insights into participants that may inform your study design and your recruitment strategy.

Organize your info into one or more categories

Most studies have one primary and several secondary or tertiary personas.

Give your personas a name

Your participant personas will have an operational name such as “Urban mothers with young children.” We challenge you to create a human name, such as “Mary” or “Samantha,” to add a more human element to the ideal participant.

Write a short description of your participant persona

This doesn’t need to be a formal report. That’s completely unnecessary. However, most studies on ProofPilot are conducted by a team. It’s helpful to have everyone on the same page. Share your description. Get feedback from your other study collaborators. 

Optional: Find a photograph of your participant persona

ProofPilot sometimes finds it useful to find a stock photo that represents the ideal study participant.  Visuals create a more dynamic vision of your ideal participant.

Broad participant persona categories

As part of the ProofPilot development process, we identified some broad participant personas. ProofPilot believes research today is limited to only a select few areas due to high costs and complexity. We’ve brought the costs and complexity down making research feasible where it wasn’t before. Therefore, if you are a traditional researcher, you’ll see personas here that might seem unusual.

Regardless of your research interests, you’ll find the personas you create for your study will include a piece of each.

For life-altering solution seekers, finding a solution to their illness, disease or issue is a major motivator. Individuals who fit this persona may suffer from acute or chronic diseases. ProofPilot’s human name for this persona is Deborah. Deborah has regular relationships with several primary and specialty physicians. What differentiates Deborah from hard to reach is the drive to find solutions. That drive and capacity to find and access solutions may infer a higher level of education and socio-economic status. Deborah has become experts in her illness. She searches extensively across medical and academic journals, attending conferences (as health allows) and participating in patient support groups. That being said, like other life-altering solutions seekers, Deborah does not require constant medical supervision, she also takes care of her two young children and is a middle-school teacher. She knows her illness may shorten her lifespan, and one of her driving goals to find a cure is so that she may remain around to see her children grow up. Her disease is also genetic, and she wants to ensure her children don’t experience the disease as she has. Deborah will seek out studies, and is frustrated by those run poorly, have overly strict eligibility criteria, or are difficult to participate in.

Those in need, but hard to reach tend to have or are at significant risk for chronic disease, but due to various barriers (access, perceptions of risk, trust, fear etc), the typical individual represented by this persona doesn’t engage to address, mitigate or solve their issue.  ProofPilot’s human name for this persona is Jerry.  Jerry’s father and grandfather died of heart attacks at an early age. Jerry has been his primary physician irregularly over the past years. When he has gone, his physician strongly urged him to lose weight and change his diet as his cholesterol and blood pressure was high. Jerry has a family that requires a lot of attention. He works long hours at an accounting firm he started. Running a business in the community he lives in has been hard due to a rough economy. Jerry spends the little free time he has following the local college football. He also enjoys watching other sports on TV. Jerry sees nothing wrong with participating in a study, but it’s got to be so easy to do he doesn’t have to think about it. He just doesn’t have the time or interest otherwise.

Optimizers and Explorers aren’t ill. In fact, this group is likely to be super healthy. They are looking for “an edge” that will optimize their health and take them to the next level of productivity. ProofPilot’s human name for this persona is Anderson. Anderson runs every morning with a group of like-minded men and women before heading into the office. Anderson is in his mid-30s and has not been married, leaving him time to really focus on his health, performance, and career. Anderson has experimented with ketogenic diets and regularly reads up on various blogs and sites about the latest diet and supplement news. Anderson has a primary care physician and good health insurance, but via self-experimentation, an exacting diet, and regular exercise he feels empowered to take care of his own health. Anderson is always looking for new products and solutions. He’s done some self-experimentation himself and would join a study he saw as interesting. He might even pay to participate. He knows the value of research and wishes there was more in the area of health prevention and optimization.

Entertain Me is a broad set of participants who engage in ProofPilot studies to pass the time in the same way they might do so on Instagram or a mobile game. ProofPilot’s human name for this persona is Olivia.  Olivia is constantly on her mobile phone talking with friends. She learns about studies via her friends and the social networks she uses. Olivia is relatively young and likely and any issues will be related to mental health and social pressures. Olivia joins studies because they look interesting and they have decent rewards.

Professional Study Participant is the original gig economy employee. Before Uber and Task Rabbit, college students earned a little extra cash by participating in research studies. ProofPIlot’s human name for this persona is Noah. Noah looks for studies that are convenient with a good financial reward to supplement his income. Noah is relatively young, in his early 20s. He has no particular health issues and doesn’t talk about his participation in studies much. It’s just some extra cash. He learns about studies from websites he frequents when cash gets tight.

Activists do not suffer from an illness or issue themselves, but they likely have someone close to them that does or has. Therefore they are passionate about the issue and will engage in studies to help the cause. ProofPilot’s human name for this persona is Lilly. Lilly’s close friend has family members suffering from a debilitating and painful illness. Her friend has educated Lilly’s entire social circle about the disease. On an annual basis, Lilly and her friends participate in walkathons to raise money for research. Lilly is socially active in her community. She’s busy (has a career and family), but for causes, she’s passionate about, she’ll get others involved. She’s happy to help out by participating in a study but won’t necessarily seek one out given her busy schedule. It’s got to be easy and not require a lot of time.

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