Once you have received information about and contacted prospective participants, your attention turns to how to deal with the confidential and personal information that you have on record. Specifically, you need to address questions about who has access to data, how you store data, and how you manage stored data files. As a general rule, this means that only researchers have data access—so your adviser/chair and/or you. You can limit what your adviser/chair has access to—only de-identified data or all research data—depending on what you have agreed to. Other steps that you can take at this point in participant selection include:
- Remove all direct identifiers;
- Substitute codes for identifiers;
- Store a matching code list and data files in separate locations (in hard or could drives or in physical cabinets);
- Use and protect computer and cloud passwords; and
- Use pseudonyms or aggregate reporting to protect against indirect identification.
These protections generally apply to any stage of data collection—from participant sampling and selection to data analysis and reporting. You can see some of these steps used in participant recruitment in dissertation studies. For example, Ghaus-Kelley (2014, p. 50) detailed what she did in the participant selection process:
Upon the gatekeeper’s recommendation, I followed up by sending the leader of each institution an e-mail introducing myself; outlining the purpose of my study, its problem, and the importance of gaining a better understanding of their experiences, in addition to any other information the gatekeeper deemed necessary. The e-mail included a summary of my research and provided participants with details of the study, including information regarding their involvement, assurance of anonymity, time commitment of iterative interviews, member checks of transcripts, and schedules of in-person meetings to ensure accuracy of their accounts during each of two personal interviews with each participant. After initial contact with participants, I then met and conducted the first of several interviews with the women executive leaders.
For her part, Edwards (2015, p. 47) stated in her dissertation study: “My study specifically asks women to discuss some personal information about their leadership experiences; therefore, protecting the identities of the women who participate in my study is of paramount importance to me as a researcher.”