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User Sense

Panel research: what, why, and how? Tips and examples. 

In this article we zoom in deeper on panel research or panel studies. We explain what it entails and how you go about conducting research using a panel.

What is a panel?

A panel is a group of people – also known as panellists – who have signed up to participate in research. They do this by filling out surveys, participating in interviews, user tests, or focus groups. 

What types of panels are there?

Depending on the criteria on which a panel is built, there are many different categories to consider. The most common types of panels are: 

Longitudinal panel 

  • Follows the same group of individuals over an extended period. 

  • Provides insight into changes in attitudes, behaviours, or other variables within the same group over time. 

Cross-sectional panel 

  • Collects data from different individuals at different times. 

  • Each time data is collected, a new sample can be taken. 

Online panel 

Telephone panel 

  • Collects data through telephone interviews. 

  • Panel members will be contacted by phone to participate in surveys or studies. 

Consumer panel 

  • Focuses specifically on consumers and their experiences with products, services, or brands. 

  • Often used in the marketing industry to gain insight into consumer behaviour and when conducting brand perception and brand awareness studies

Political panel 

  • Examines the political views, preferences, and behaviours of a specific group of people. 

  • Often used in electoral research and political science. 

Health panel 

  • Focuses on health-related issues and collects data on health behaviours, disease prevention, and medical history. 

Employee panel 

  • Examines employee experiences, satisfaction, and feedback within an organization. 

  • Can be used for human resources management and organizational development. 

What is panel research?

Panel research is a research method in which a specific group of people – the panel – is asked to participate in research that can take place in the form of online surveys, interviews, user tests, or focus groups. It is not uncommon for panel research to be used to conduct research over a specific period, in which the panel members are asked to participate in a study several times. 

Why have a panel survey conducted?

There are several reasons why companies conduct panel research. The three biggest advantages of panel research are: 

  • Fast turnaround times. By using an existing panel or building your own research panel, it is easier to invite a large group of respondents to participate. 

  • Ideal for long-term (longitudinal) research. One of the key benefits of panel research is its ability to identify long-term trends and changes over time. By following the same group of individuals over time, researchers can gain insight into the evolution of attitudes, behaviours, or other variables. 

  • Cost savings. Building a panel costs a lot of time and money, which makes it often more advantageous for companies to use an existing panel. 

Panel research methods

You can use various methods to conduct panel research. The most commonly used methods are: 

  • Surveys and questionnaires. The panel members or respondents are asked to complete online surveys and questionnaires. By using these standardized questions and having the panel members participate multiple times, the attitudes, opinions, and perceptions of panel members can be measured. 

  • Interviews. By conducting interviews, market researchers can gain more in-depth insights than from quantitative methods such as surveys. This can be especially helpful when exploring complex topics or understanding the context behind certain answers. 

  • Focus groups. The panel members are invited to participate in a group discussion, in which they discuss certain topics under the guidance of a moderator. This provides researchers with the opportunity to observe interactions and group dynamics. 

  • Observations. Direct observations of panellists’ behaviours can be performed. This can range from simple observations of daily activities to more structured observations of specific behaviours. 

  • Biometric measurements. In some cases, physiological measures, such as heart rate, skin conductance, or brain activity, can be used to obtain objective data about panellists’ physical responses to certain stimuli, such as advertising materials. 

Step-by-step plan for conducting panel research

Do you want to get started with conducting panel research? Then keep in mind that in any case you will have to go through the steps below or consider outsourcing the process completely. 

Step 1: Define the research purpose and scope 

  • Clearly define the purpose of the panel research and the specific questions you want to answer. Determine the period over which you want to conduct the research and clearly delineate the data you want to collect. 

Step 2: Selection and recruitment of panel members 

  • Identify the target audience that is representative of the population you want to study. Determine the selection criteria for the panellists. Select participants who want to participate in the panel survey in a random or targeted way. Consider using an external panel, such as the one from User Sense. 

Step 3: Design the measuring tools and collection methods 

  • Select the right measuring instruments that will help you answer the research questions. Make sure that the methods you choose are appropriate for the nature of the data you want to collect. Consider using a combination of qualitative and quantitative measurement tools. 

Step 4: Implement data collection and follow-up 

  • Start the data collection according to the designed plan. Have clear communication with the panellists about the steps they need to follow. Monitor response and implement follow-up actions to reduce non-response. Maintain a structured approach to ensure that the data is collected consistently over time. 

Step 5: Data analysis and reporting 

  • Collect the collected data and analyse it using appropriate statistical methods or qualitative analysis, depending on the nature of the data. Identify patterns, trends, and any significant changes within the panel group. Report the results and draw conclusions that are relevant to the research purpose. Provide clear and actionable recommendations based on the findings. 

Tips for conducting panel research

Effective communication with panellists

  • Transparent expectations. This is perhaps the most important tip. Communicate clearly what the participants can expect when participating in the panel survey. Explain how often they will be contacted, what kind of methods will be used, and whether they can expect to be compensated. 

  • Clear instructions. Provide clear and understandable instructions when providing information or conducting surveys. Avoid using difficult words and preferably communicate at B1 language level. This minimizes confusion and improves the accuracy of the data collected. 

  • Two-way communication. Make sure that participants can get in touch easily when they have questions. Think of a separate email address, phone number or chat. 

Strategies for dealing with outages and non-response 

  • Reminders and follow-ups. Keep in mind that participating in panel research is an afterthought for many people. Therefore, use different channels to kindly remind them that they can participate. 

  • Incentives. Offer appropriate compensation for the feedback and time panellists need to set aside. Avoid using coupons and consider paying people in currency. 

  • Analysis of non-response. Identify patterns or trends in the outages and adjust your approach to reduce them. 

Continuous evaluation and adjustment of the panel design

  • Periodic review. Schedule regular review moments to assess the effectiveness of the panel design. Evaluate the involvement of panellists, the quality of the data collected, and the overall performance of the study so that you can make adjustments when necessary. 

  • Feedback collection. Gather feedback from panellists about their experiences as a panellist and consider implementing the improvements so that members feel heard. 

  • Flexibility in design. Panel research requires a flexible attitude and being able to make adjustments when necessary. 

Examples of panel research

Below are three well-known examples of Dutch panel research: 

Dutch Study of Depression and Anxiety (NESDA) 

NESDA is a longitudinal study in the Netherlands that aims to understand the causes and consequences of depression and anxiety disorders. The study began in 2004 and follows a large group of participants over time, collecting data on various aspects of their lives, including mental health, lifestyle, and social factors. 

Continuous Research on Citizen Perspectives (COB) 

The SCP conducts the Continuous Survey of Citizen Perspectives, in which data is collected annually among the Dutch population. This panel research focuses on social and societal issues and examines citizens' views, opinions, and expectations regarding social issues, among other things. 

The EenVandaag Opinion Panel 

This is perhaps the most well-known panel in the Netherlands, where panel members are asked to give their opinion on various issues that are in the news at the time.