How have we engaged the families in the Danish pilot in RESPOND? How can we ensure the continued engagement of the families in a research project spanning 3 years? How do we appeal to the enrolled families to continue in the project even if they encounter a wide range of technical problems, changes and schedules that do not last?
No results without families
The RESPOND project spans 3 years and with only 20 participating homes in the Danish pilot, the research results become extra vulnerable and we cannot afford to lose families due to insufficient communication or inappropriate treatment of the participants.
There are many pitfalls where the project may lose participants, e.g., the selection of participating families with high diversity complicates communication/involvement for the project team, also building the process with a long baseline period over 1 year (where families must not be affected). Within the 3 years of the project there may be families moving or other circumstances that have huge impact on the validity of the study. It is also an issue that the families have to be at home in order for the project group to set up the required equipment.
The patience of the participants is also being tested when the installed equipment does not work as intended or is difficult to use. Which has very much been the case in RESPOND. Losing participants along the way means less valid research results, especially when there are only a small number of participants from the start.
Insight into behavioural psychology helps to succeed
Sincerity promotes trust and a good relationship. Trust is important in relation to the families. If the families trust you as a professional, then they are also safe and motivated to adopt information and put it into practice. But what does it take for you as a professional to create and maintain a trusting relationship through a 3-year project period?
Here are 3 tips from what has been successful in the Danish pilot
- Clear communication
Every time we want action from families, it has been essential to ensure that the message reaches them, is read and understood. Much communication with the families takes place in writing through emails, which can easily lead to misunderstandings. Long explanations cause the recipient to lose interest. If it seems cumbersome or confusing then the desired action is not done.
In the written communication we have made use of:
- short and precise messages (max 3 messages)
- visual aids such as highlights/framings and pictures
- Listen and be respectful
Meet the family with respect, humility and curiosity. They open their home to a stranger and it may well be an intimidating experience. The family can feel exposed and it activates emotions like worry, anxiety and frustration. In order to win the trust of the family, it is important that you recognise them and their challenges and express that you understand their concerns. We have shown gratitude and also explained to the families that their contribution is of great importance to us. You show humility by including and informing the families as well as by being honestly.
- The personal relationship
The relationship is an important element. Time and energy must be spent on building a good relationship. The personal relationship has a major impact on attachment to the project and maintaining the family through the 3-year period. In order to build trust and eliminate hassles, the families have been given a direct mobile number on one contact person. This person was the main person in all dialogue to and with the families for the whole period.
You get motivated by personal communication, e.g. use of their names in emails. Similarly, oral dialogue is more committing than written. On significant topics, the written communication was followed by subsequent phone calls, e.g. in connection with the download and login on the RESPOND app or our wish to interview the family.
The families we had the closest dialogue with are the 10 families who had new thermostats installed as part of an effort to reduce heat consumption during the morning hours. Despite many technical problems, with the consequence of inconvenience for the families, we have managed to create a relationship that has connected these families more closely to us than the other RESPOND families. This was shown, among other things, in relation to the fact that all the “thermostat families” have downloaded the app in the latest version 1.15. The download required them to re-enter the user and password. By comparison, only 3 of the other 10 RESPOND families have downloaded the new version of the app.
Knud Jensen, AURA Raadgivning, had a polite behaviour when he was visiting the family and installing the intelligent thermostats. He took off his shoes when entering the home, not to make the floor dirty.
During the replacement of the thermostats, he carefully put bowl underneath to insure no water would damage the wooden flooring.
Article made by Lisbet Stryhn Rasmussen, AURA Raadgivning, July 2020
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