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An Analysis of the Ecological Theory of Research
Participation Applied to a Sample of Young
Adult Males

By: Lisa M. Soler, RN and Adriana Ramirez | Mentor: Dr. Michael J. Rovito

Application of the ETRP in the TSE Text Study

Participants

Strategies associated with the participant level of the model (see Figure 2) include: providing a clear definition of the sampling population; forming a participant advisory group; ensuring convenience of activities; and providing population-appropriate incentives. In the TSE study, participants received a full description of the experiment in the form of a consent agreement. For participants in the intervention arms (three-quarters of the study population), face-to-face confirmation was utilized so that participants understood the agreement and had an opportunity for questions and clarifications. For the true control group, comprising one quarter of the population, this was not possible, although they were given contact information to reach the investigators should they have questions or concerns. While a participant advisory group was not facilitated, adequate contact information was provided to all participants for support. Moreover, convenience and accessibility were at the forefront in the development of study-related activities. The use of text messaging and electronic based surveys was implemented to allow maximum freedom to participants. A lack of funds limited the ability to compensate the population. As demonstrated by the model, funds assist a study by providing incentives to the participants, which keep them interested in the study. Nonetheless, food and a grand prize drawing were offered as incentives to all participants completing the study.

Researcher

At the researcher level of the model, several strategies address researcher-related reasons for attrition. For example, favorable presentation of the study and discussion of its social usefulness should be provided prior to the initiation of the study. In the TSE study, we implemented an informational session for participants. It included a presentation on the topic through the use of visual aids, a thorough review of the consent form, and the opportunity to address any questions or concerns. As suggested, we established a meaningful network with an agency as a point of communication for participants.

Additional strategies for researchers address ways to encourage participants to prioritize the study, to communicate with data collectors, and to complete the study. Participants' bond with the study was encouraged through materials such as pamphlets, which created an identity for the study. In doing so, credibility was established. A significant theme found in the TSE study was communication, particularly between participants and the research team. This was defined as any contact between the participants and team, including e-mails, texts, and phone or in-person conversations. An open line of communication was a priority for meeting participants' needs and assuring participants of their significance. While this was of upmost importance to the researchers, participants did not readily initiate communicate on their own. Although a high volume of communication was expected from participants due to the nature of the research design and message delivery system, the result was weaker than expected because communication became increasingly unidirectional as the study progressed. Lastly, the model also endorses expressing gratitude to participants throughout the study. In the TSE study, all opportunities to praise participants for their willingness to contribute were fully taken advantage of through periodic emails and texts during the study, as well as a final "thank you" email.

Study

Strategies associated with the study include recruitment methods, retention strategies, informed consent procedures, tracking techniques, participant needs, measurement strategies, and equal opportunities to participate. Recruitment methods should be tailored. to the characteristics of the anticipated population. Methods used to recruit male students at UCF for the TSE study consisted of advertisements in appropriate locations, solicitations in public spaces, and arranged enlistments through campus fraternities. However, the challenges remained in employing retention strategies sufficient per the ETRP.

The researchers attempted to sustain a balance between keeping the study convenient for the participants and maintaining participation by insuring the study was not forgotten. Text messages were used to maintain this balance and were utilized to make the study as convenient as possible for participants. As noted previously, an informed consent procedure was implemented during an informational seminar presented to all participants. Realistic expectations of the study were clearly outlined, as the ETRP suggests.

Tracking techniques were not up to standards with the ETRP as only one method of tracking was used in the form of a study ID. This identification number was crossreferenced with all study-related materials received from participants. Problems arose when participants failed to use the correct number, which led to untraceable surveys, and therefore, unusable data.

Participant needs were addressed in the TSE study. For example, text messages and e-mail correspondence safeguarded the participants' privacy and convenience. Seminars were held at the fraternities during prearranged meeting times so members did not face the burden of finding the time to attend. Measurement strategies were tailored to the accessibility of participants with surveys completed either during the seminars or via e-mail, which guaranteed availability to all partakers.

Marcellus (2004) highlights the importance of offering equal opportunity for all eligible candidates to participate in a study. The targeted population of the TSE study was only limited by their ability to receive text messages through a mobile device. Other barriers (perceived and real) were limited because the study was conducted electronically. Further, computers and reliable Internet services were readily available on campus. Therefore, any college male age eighteen to thirty-five without a history of testicular cancer could participate in the study.

Environment

Environment is the last of the four levels in the ETRP. It consists of strategies to assess environmental factors, to strengthen outreach retention methods, and to monitor external influences in relation to the population of interest. The environmental factor addresses transportation needs, which was not an issue in the TSE study, and community perception of research.

The topic of the TSE study is difficult because of the personal and sensitive nature of the subject. External influences are limited in the TSE study because the topic is not one that is readily discussed and is perhaps the reason behind a lack of interest among the study's participants. Had there been a media intensive event drawing attention to the topic, more interest may have developed. For example, if this study had taken place during the time Lance Armstrong, a prominent sports figure, was diagnosed with testicular cancer, more college-aged men would be aware of the research topic (see Trumbo, 2004).

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