Tailored panel management: A theory-based approach to building and maintaining participant commitment to a longitudinal study.
Many psychological processes unfold over time, necessitating longitudinal research designs. Longitudinal research poses a host of methodological challenges, foremost of which is participant attrition. Building on Dillman’s work, we provide a review of how social influence and relationship research informs retention strategies in longitudinal studies. Objective: We introduce the tailored panel management (TPM) approach, which is designed to establish communal norms that increase commitment to a longitudinal study, and this commitment, in turn, increases response rates and buffers against attrition. Specifically, we discuss practices regarding compensation, communication, consistency, and credibility that increase longer term commitment to panel participation. Research design: Throughout the article, we describe how TPM is being used in a national longitudinal study of undergraduate minority science students. TheScienceStudy is a continuing panel, which has 12 waves of data collected across 6 academic years, with response rates ranging from 70% to 92%. Although more than 90% of participants have either left or graduated from their undergraduate degree program, this highly mobile group of people remains engaged in the study. TheScienceStudy has usable longitudinal data from 96% of the original panel. Conclusion: This article combines social psychological theory, current best practice, and a detailed case study to illustrate the TPM approach to longitudinal data collection. The approach provides guidance for other longitudinal researchers, and advocates for empirical research into longitudinal research methodologies.