Collaborative panel management – a case study of panelist incentivization

Bob Fawson
Online Services, Western Wats Center, Inc., United States

Edward Paul Johnson
Western Wats Center, Inc., United States


Good online panel managers strive to maintain an active and healthy community of willing participants in the survey research process. This complex process requires optimization of incentive structure, participation limits, survey design elements, and other salient variables with respect to a set of tightly binding constraints. Ultimately, the health of a panel can be easily, though only partially, gauged by participation rates and panelist engagement (as measured by data quality).

Incentive plays a key role in every theory of respondent motivation. Incentives serve as an important trust building mechanism within the social exchange framework. Within an economic exchange framework, respondents seek to maximize incentive, making it one of the most important determinants of participation (Dillman 2007). Leverage-salience theory suggests that a panelist's level of participation is a function of the relative prominence and personal relevance of variables found in each survey invitation (Marcus et al. 2007).1 Common invitation variables are topic, potential for personal feedback, interview length, incentive, and use of the end data, but incentive is the only variable consistently within the panel manager's control.