Jen’s War Story: Trust your gut, it can save your life!
Jen Iudice is a Senior Design Researcher with Teague. Here is her story about the road not taken.
Having done ethnographic research for nearly 20 years, I’ve definitely seen it all in the field. Fortunately, that includes coming across some very interesting and enthusiastic participants. On occasion however, there are times when the recruiter misses the boat, things slip through the cracks, and wham bam, you are in a painfully uncomfortable (or in rare cases) a dangerous situation. Hence the challenge of screening: striking a balance between actually screening participants while trying not to lead them. As researchers we are aware of the occasional duds who sneak their way into a study in order to make a buck! This is one of those stories.
Recently, I was charged to do some field research for a client about how people use their personal data; a topic that covered a massive amount of sub topics, and could apply to almost anyone. The screener was carefully developed with the client’s input, and the recruit was filled with a great spectrum of participants. Good so far.
The client was very motivated to participate in the research, which is almost always a positive. However, on this particular occasion my colleague and I were ultimately relieved that he could not make it to this interview!
When we arrived at the location, we noticed an old, run down high-rise building with a bail bondsman conveniently located on the bottom floor. There were several “tenants” taking leisurely “naps” in front of the doorway to greet us. At that moment I felt a terrible sinking feeling in my stomach. My colleague half joking/half seriously said, “I don’t want to go in there Jen…I don’t care if he uses Mint.com!”
As we drove around the building several times I contemplated: Am I being too judgmental? Could this really be a well-qualified participant that I am simply not willing to accept because of the sketchy appearance of his place of residence? Can we risk entering this building with all of our expensive electronic/video equipment?
My colleague and I decided not to risk ignoring the feeling in our guts, and phoned to cancel the interview.
When the participant answered the phone he sounded very strange and out of sorts. I let him know that we would still pay him for his time, but we could not make it to the interview (translation: we are afraid to come into your building!). He then explained that he had just been robbed at gunpoint in his apartment, and that it was a good thing we did not come over! This became even more concerning when we realized that you could not enter this building without going through a security check-in at the front desk (this was another tip-off that we should not go in!). This event would mean either the security precautions were a joke, or that someone that lives in the building had robbed him! Needless to say, I did not ask any details, and he continued to talk to me about how distraught he was. I did my best to try and console the man and wished him luck with his situation. AWKWARD!
It boggles my mind to think about what could have happened if we had followed through with this interview! As one could imagine, I “verbalized my concerns” to the recruiter (i.e., I gave them an earful!), but moving forward, I will always map out my in-home interviews and will always make sure I have a colleague with me on every interview…just to be safe!
Be careful out there, everyone. Always be aware of your surroundings. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t!