Julia Isaacs is junior strategist at KNow Research. She can be reached atji@knowresearch.com. Shira Glickman is senior strategist at KNow Research. She can be reached at sg@knowresearch.com.

In the summer of 2022, KNow Research, a qualitatively focused research agency, embarked on an internal project to better understand the widespread issue of participant fraud within the insights industry. The motivation for this investigation arose from a significant 19% uptick in the presence of bad actors infiltrating our virtual fieldwork. Recognizing that this issue extended beyond just our organization, we started an exploration to gain a broader understanding of the issue and ensure that the insights we gather truly stem from genuine human experiences. 

Our goal: refine our internal practices and provide thought-starters and resources to the insights industry as a whole to protect the integrity of qualitative insights and avoid scenarios like this:

You recruit 12 participants for one-on-one interviews from a quantitative study that targeted U.S.-based, C-suite professionals. You do your due diligence to invite those who gave thoughtful and relevant responses in the initial quant survey. You schedule follow-up interviews and, to your initial delight, you hit the nail on the head with some outstanding professionals who were exactly who you hoped had taken your survey! 

Until you meet “George Henry,” a participant who claims to be a CEO of a New York City-based tech company. The time arrives, you’re on the line and “George” enters the virtual room, though he doesn’t turn on his camera. You greet him and ask that he kindly turn on his webcam. He claims to struggle to figure out how to do this and asks if it’s necessary. You remind him that this was part of the criteria laid out for the study and that he try again. At last, his camera turns on and you see a shadowy figure in a dim room. You ask if he can t...