Compensating Research Participants: A Survey of Current Practices in Toronto

In health and social research, individuals and communities are invited to contribute to research by sharing their experiences through interviews, focus groups, and surveys.


Honoraria and incentives are used throughout health and social science research but there is debate about whether and how to compensate research participants. The Tri-Council Policy Statement, which outlines ethical considerations and guidance for research involving humans in Canada, alerts researchers to the need to carefully weigh the use of incentives against any potential harms for participants in research (TCPS, 2014). Beyond this, however, there is a lack of publicly available practical guidelines to support researchers and research ethics boards when making difficult decisions about participant compensation.


It is common for researchers to pay participants, despite the absence of formal guidance on how to compensate participants and what amounts are appropriate. As a result, payment practices vary.


Research has been conducted in Australia and the United States to understand how researchers compensate participants (Ripley et al. 2010; Fry et al., 2005). To date this work has not been done in Canada. To respond to this gap, this report outlines the results of our recent survey of the types and amount of compensation that health researchers are providing to participants in the Greater Toronto Area. The companion think piece identifies current debates in the literature and key considerations for ensuring payment practices are fair and inclusive.


Together, this work provides insight into current health and social research compensation practices in Toronto and identifies emerging good practices for paying research participants in a fair and inclusive way that researchers and research ethics boards can consider when making decisions about research compensation (see “Fair & Inclusive Compensation for Research Participants: A Guideline”).

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