Fieldworkers are a critical component of the research process and choosing the right people for the job will help you achieve both a great event and gain useful information about an audience.

When implementing any survey methodology which includes face-to-face interaction there will be at least one person on the day to collect data, be that a volunteer, member of staff or professional fieldworker. This guide aims to lead you through the key points of what makes a good fieldworker and how you go about recruiting, training and managing them.

The perfect fieldworker

Fieldworkers should both reflect the spirit of your event, and be able to collect useful audience information. Here are some characteristics of a good fieldworker:

  • Good communicators - happy approaching and talking to people they do not know and are aware of the rest of the event. Audiences will associate them with the event so they need to know what is going on and be able to represent your organisation.
  • Organised – they show up on time, take the methodology seriously, are well prepared and aware of what equipment is required.
  • Reliable and accurate – they are able to follow directions, pay attention to detail, store data sensibly and appropriately and take pride in doing a job well.
  • Sensitive – they are aware of data protection and access issues and have an understanding of the audiences' perspective.
  • Personable - friendly and smiling, they should be able to relate to your target audience.
  • Flexible – they are able and willing to work irregular hours, such as evenings and weekends.

If fieldworkers are not confident enough in the role assigned to them, they are more likely to only talk to people they know or identify with. This will not give you the range and breadth of information needed from a representative sample of your audience.

Organising the team

Fieldworkers, and volunteers in particular, need clear and consistent direction to be happy and effective in their role so make sure adequate time and resources are allocated to manage them.

It is important to be clear within your organisation what their role will be and who will be their main point of contact before recruiting. Staff capacity will affect the size of the team an organisation can manage, however if you are using volunteers, it might be that you decide the managerial role is a volunteer post too.

Recruiting volunteers

There are lots of people looking for volunteering opportunities in the arts as a means of gaining work experience, as an opportunity to connect with others in the arts and to experience new things. To be sure you get the right volunteers for this specific role, it is vital to put some time and thought into the recruitment process.

Descriptions of the role should be clear and sound appealing, try to avoid generic opportunity titles such as ‘Volunteer’ or ‘Admin assistant’. Keep the opportunity description short, snappy and straight to the point avoiding jargon and acronyms. Things to include:

  • What does the role involve?
  • Who will they be working with?
  • What skills will they develop?
  • What benefit will their volunteering bring to the organisation and to them personally?
  • Are there any skills or experiences which are necessary?
  • What will the time commitment be and what can they expect in terms of expenses?
  • Who should they contact?

Recruitment text example:

Research Assistant – Meet artists, producers and local residents and learn audience research skills in an arts organisation. Our organisation needs friendly, reliable volunteers to help us discover what the public think of the festival. Commitment: Half-day training on 12 July 2014 and 8 hour shifts on any day 18-21 July 2014. Travel expenses and lunch provided. Contact: Emma at to register your interest.

Where to advertise

Target your advertising to avoid over subscription and consider the most logical places first:

  • Existing networks or previous volunteers
  • If the event is held at a particular place, there may be volunteers attached to the venue
  • Involve partners or community groups linked to the event, use their networks.

Other options may include local Volunteer Centres, Student Services department of colleges/universities, or back-to-work employment initiatives.

Training and support

Regardless of the level of experience a fieldworker might already have, some training will always be necessary. Training sessions should typically cover:

  1. Background on the event
  2. Practicalities – what will happen on the day
  3. Roles and responsibilities
  4. Sampling – how to achieve representative profiles of an audience
  5. How to encourage people to take part in the research
  6. Interview techniques
  7. Practising the interview
  8. Dealing with sensitive questions
  9. Data protection and Market Research Society codes of conduct

It is also good practice to ensure that fieldworkers are supervised, or have a contactable supervisor, particularly during the early stages of data collection to make sure that they are comfortable with their role, the research approach and that they are doing an effective job.

Reward and recognition

It goes without saying that fieldworkers, especially volunteers, need to be thanked for their efforts and made aware of how vital their role is. Although volunteers should not receive payment for their services, think about opportunities you can offer them to become more engaged with your organisation, or ways of expressing recognition of training and skills learnt. This can be tailored to suit their motivations for volunteering in the first place.

Legal considerations and expenses

Make sure to consider the following:

  1. Volunteers must be able to conduct the research safely – this might mean getting volunteers to work in pairs, especially if the research is taking place after dark.
  2. Expenses should be given to volunteers for any out-of-pocket expenses – typically travel and food with proof of receipt.
  3. Unpaid, voluntary work can be a politically sensitive issue – make sure you are complying with national minimum wage legislation.
  4. Be aware that any agreements formed with volunteers describing what they intend to commit to an organisation cannot be considered binding contracts; otherwise they should be treated as paid employees.