Comparing two sampling methods to engage hard-to-reach communities in research priority setting

Melissa A. Valerio, Natalia Rodriguez, Paula Winkler, Jaime Lopez, Meagen Dennison, Yuanyuan Liang, Barbara J. Turner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Background: Effective community-partnered and patient-centered outcomes research needs to address community priorities. However, optimal sampling methods to engage stakeholders from hard-to-reach, vulnerable communities to generate research priorities have not been identified. Methods: In two similar rural, largely Hispanic communities, a community advisory board guided recruitment of stakeholders affected by chronic pain using a different method in each community: 1) snowball sampling, a chain- referral method or 2) purposive sampling to recruit diverse stakeholders. In both communities, three groups of stakeholders attended a series of three facilitated meetings to orient, brainstorm, and prioritize ideas (9 meetings/community). Using mixed methods analysis, we compared stakeholder recruitment and retention as well as priorities from both communities' stakeholders on mean ratings of their ideas based on importance and feasibility for implementation in their community. Results: Of 65 eligible stakeholders in one community recruited by snowball sampling, 55 (85 %) consented, 52 (95 %) attended the first meeting, and 36 (65 %) attended all 3 meetings. In the second community, the purposive sampling method was supplemented by convenience sampling to increase recruitment. Of 69 stakeholders recruited by this combined strategy, 62 (90 %) consented, 36 (58 %) attended the first meeting, and 26 (42 %) attended all 3 meetings. Snowball sampling recruited more Hispanics and disabled persons (all P < 0.05). Despite differing recruitment strategies, stakeholders from the two communities identified largely similar ideas for research, focusing on non-pharmacologic interventions for management of chronic pain. Ratings on importance and feasibility for community implementation differed only on the importance of massage services (P = 0.045) which was higher for the purposive/convenience sampling group and for city improvements/transportation services (P = 0.004) which was higher for the snowball sampling group. Conclusions: In each of the two similar hard-to-reach communities, a community advisory board partnered with researchers to implement a different sampling method to recruit stakeholders. The snowball sampling method achieved greater participation with more Hispanics but also more individuals with disabilities than a purposive-convenience sampling method. However, priorities for research on chronic pain from both stakeholder groups were similar. Although utilizing a snowball sampling method appears to be superior, further research is needed on implementation costs and resources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number146
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalBMC Medical Research Methodology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 28 2016


  • Chronic pain
  • Community-based participatory research
  • Research methods
  • Sampling studies
  • Vulnerable populations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Health Informatics


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