A panel study is a type of longitudinal (continuous) survey data collection research, which has predefined, vetted and well-known profiles, also called panelists. These people normally collaborate voluntarily with the panel in exchange for some benefit, typically money for each survey answered, or a "mileage" award. Additionally, a panelist can collaborate voluntarily and free of charge with the panel when the cause investigated by the Study is related to his or her interests.
Once the panelist is recruited to participate in the panel. He/she must fill out an extensive form where he/she declares a set of relevant information that will serve to define his/her initial profile. This screenning asks about age, sex, marital status, race, nationality, skin color, height, weight, social stratum, educational level, city and area where he/she lives, personal and other preferences, lifestyle, identity and political preference, habits and daily routine, uses of certain products and categories, consumer behavior, etc.
With this valuable information we can make the panelist participate in a study or in several studies, where his profile is key to understand the behavior of the category or problem being investigated. Any data we collect in a survey, for example, which brand of car he prefers, can be crossed with hundreds of variables that we know beforehand about the panelist.
Advantages of panel studies
Disadvantages of panel studies
What types of research are most appropriate for a panel?
Not all market studies are candidates for the panel technique. Therefore, before incurring the costs that the panel technique implies, it is necessary to evaluate the various data collection techniques that we could alternatively apply in our study.
Studies that investigate sensitive topics or categories, such as abortion, incest, pedophilia, condom use, sanitary napkin use, deodorant use, personal habits such as brushing teeth, showering, masturbation, depilation, etc., or socially acceptable but objectionable habits such as consumption of liquor, marijuana and tobacco, tend to be more appropriate in panel studies.
Another factor is the budget available to the researcher. Typically the panel can cost up to 10 times more than a simple Ad-hoc survey (self-administered online survey) and up to 5 times more than a CATI (telephone survey) or CAPI (face-to-face survey with mobile device). If the budget is tight, the researcher has 2 options, either assemble their own panel or contract panel services to a third party. Putting together a panel involves recruiting panelists, defining and negotiating an incentive. Create a registration form and a database for queries.
Hiring a panel implies evaluating the different options in the market of companies that provide fixed panel samples, that have panelists related to the category or problem to be studied and that are located within the geographic area weare interested in, for example, if we are studying the use of video games by adolescents between 12 and 20 years of age of middle and high social stratum in the city of Buenos Aires. We need the panelist company to have those exact profiles.
Thus, the panels most commonly used today are:
Survey Software for Panel Studies
Currently most online survey providers, such as Survey Monkey, QuestionPro, Survey Gizmo, Qualtrix, e-Encuesta, Voxco and Rotator Survey, etc. offer interfaces to connect with online panel companies. Once the researcher engages the service of the panel company, the next step is to build the questionnaire that we will apply to the panel. Typically the way to connect our survey to the online panel company is by routing the survey once it is answered.
When modeling the survey in RotatorSurvey, we must program it in such a way that, when we finish filling it, the survey is redirected to the panel provider company, for example: If we want to create a survey and send it to our panelists, we must create unique urls for each panelist, like this:
SUBJECT 1 https://ares.rotatorserver.com/web/versta/5ca175c_1/inicio.php?Id=P1
SUBJECT 2 https://ares.rotatorserver.com/web/versta/5ca175c_1/inicio.php?Id=P2
SUBJECT 3 https://ares.rotatorserver.com/web/versta/5ca175c_1/inicio.php?Id=P3
SUBJECT 4 https://ares.rotatorserver.com/web/versta/5ca175c_1/inicio.php?Id=P4
SUBJECT 5 https://ares.rotatorserver.com/web/versta/5ca175c_1/inicio.php?Id=P5
Note to the right of the url, the field "?Id=P1", this indicates that the first url will be sent to panelist P1, the second to panelist P2 and so on.
The mailings must be made by personalized mail to each of the panelists, either from our email account or using the mailing service provided by the online panel company itself.
Then our panel provider must give us the connection url, which typically has this format:
This is the URL provided by the panel provider. At the end of the URL we see the field [id], there our survey system "RotatorSurvey" will automatically insert the unique Id that identifies the panelist, which has been declared at the start of the survey by the argument ? Id=XX
The advantage of this technique is that the panel company does not have access to the answers of the questionnaire, as they only have access to the panelist's ID and sociodemographic data, as well as any other data about the lifestyle declared by the panelist at the time of registration. All survey responses will be recorded on the server where the survey resides, but at no time will they travel to the panel company's server.
Global panel research companies
Since the 90's, and with the rise of the Internet, thousands of market research companies have been created globally that are dedicated exclusively to maintaining online panels. Among the most outstanding ones we could find are.
Panel research companies operating in Latin America
In Latin America there are few local companies that have been able to maintain their presence in the online panel business, this has opened a window of opportunity for large global market research companies such as Kantar, Ipsos, Nielsen, Gallup, among others. Here is a list that Google returned when searching for "Online panel companies operating in Latin America".