Sep 14, 2015

Early findings show personal touch is key

In participant recruitment, partners who knock on doors get the best results

After several months of recruitment efforts, several SmartMove partners have struggled to meet targets. However, those that have taken recruited face to face, rather than through the post, seem to have found the winning approach.

Partners in SmartMove’s eight implementing regions across Europe began last spring to recruit local households as participants in active mobility consultancies (AMCs). But several partners have struggled to secure the targeted 500 volunteers.

As of early August, just two implementing regions – Burgos, Spain and Langadas, Greece – had hit the mark with their personal approach. Other partners have relied more on the post or telephone cold calls and have reported lower-than-expected response rates.

Of the regions that have struggled, Euskirchen, Germany has been a relative success. After 4,300 households were invited to participate by mail, about 300 individuals agreed to participate. The local partner planned to contact a further 950 households by phone in hopes of picking up an additional 200 participants. That effort is ongoing.

In the German region of Oberlausitz-Niederschlesien, initial contact was made by circulating a flyer to 2,500 households – 700 by post and the rest given out at public offices and door to door. This effort garnered just 43 household participants, or about 100 individuals. A further 21 phone calls were made, but no additional participants were mustered.

A more disappointing result was in Wittenberg, Germany, where a mailing of 2,500 flyers (“You can be a test passenger in NASA’s public transport!”) attracted just three participants. The Wittenberg campaign continues with these three test riders, although local partner NASA hopes to net additional participants with a new message and new flyer. It will be sent to 4,700 households.

The going has even been tough for the project’s lead partner, the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU). BOKU, which helped coordinate a fruitful pilot project elsewhere in Austria, is having difficulties repeating the success in the country’s Waldviertel – Wachau region. Initial efforts netted 432 “willing” households, but just 173 returned the requested order forms without telephone reminder. Therefore further telephone enquires were made, yealding a total of 527 households that are willing to participate in the campaign. This now is clearly over the envisaged target.

So far, the most successful regions have been Burgos, Spain and Langadas, Greece. Interestingly, partners in both regions deviated from the prescribed SmartMove methodology by starting straight off with person-to-person engagement.

Burgos started with personal emails and phone calls to contacts from a previous project on sustainable mobility. Student recruiters went to the database and sent out email invitations, and made reminder phone calls. It took a total of 648 phone calls to secure the requisite 500 participants. In the next step, the recruiters went to the subjects’ homes and carried out consultancies. The entire AMC campaign was concluded in less than six weeks – from April 20 to May 30.

In Langadas, the campaign started immediately with face to face contact. Three interviewers who were trained in the consultancy procedure went from home to home and asked people if they’d be willing to fill out questionnaires. In each case, a majority of contacted persons agreed to take part in the campaign and the interviewers collected the requisite 504 questionnaires within a week’s time. The implementers at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki note that a token postal campaign was also carried out – 50 direct mailings – but this netted just two additional participants. Information packets requested by the participants were being prepared for mailing at the time of reporting.

Langadas has also taken an extra step of carrying out a “control” study along a different bus line similar to the one in its AMC campaign. It collected questionnaires from 224 residents for this exercise.

The main aim of SmartMove, of course, is to boost public transport usage along targeted transport lines. This won’t be assessed until the last phase of the SmartMove project, but preliminary results suggest that a personal approach, by phone or face-to-face, is the best way to get residents involved in an AMC campaign.

Photo: studio 43 - Nektarios Basdekis