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Re-Thinking the Rules of Engagement for Virtual Research Theatre

Posted By Roben Allong and Barbara Hairston, Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Re-Thinking the Rules of Engagement for Virtual Research Theatre

by Roben Allong and Barbara Hairston

 (Photo credit: Julia M. Cameron)
(Photo credit: Julia M. Cameron)

 

Savvy qualitative researchers are not waiting for new normal to emerge. They are re-thinking engagement rules before they step back into the research theatre, post COVID-19. Engaging consumers post-crisis — when experiences across racial, ethnic, employment, and geographic lines are newly imprinted and quite disparate — is an opportunity to re-calibrate the way we conduct qualitative research, whether in-person or online. To state the obvious, no one has been left untouched by the pandemic’s sudden disruption of human behavior and norms; this requires a new look at the rules for qual research interaction. 

While participants are available and willing to talk, many are still in crisis physically, mentally, and even financially. Qual researchers should not expect that study participants will be mindfully available or fully cogent in responses, especially given their disparate experiences. Post-COVID-19 study designs will require that we look beyond traditional methodologies and techniques. This post will outline five guidelines that can be deployed to elevate engagement for a more insightful studywhether in-person or virtual. These may already be familiar but are worth revisiting; how we apply them in this new normal may also help us elevate the practice.  

Firstbe as transparent as possible to re-establish trustBasic trust between people has been severely upendedTransparency is needed now, more than ever; that includes reassuring participants of the protocols that are in place to ensure participants’ physical and mental health before starting your focus group or interview interactionMeeting vulnerable communities where they are is imperative to rebuild trust. Clearly express participation expectations and also acknowledge that the crisis has had an impact. This is especially important for online video studies where building effective rapport in a virtual environment requires greater specificity and clarity. Transparency helps reduce fear of the unknown and the unexpected that participants may not even realize they are harboring since the advent of COVID-19.  

Second, create and enforce no judgement zone that supports study participants as they share their truth, that may even be new to them. Avoid unconscious bias. Be especially mindful of how you ask questions; choose your words and examples carefully. Tap into unfamiliar emotions that they are feeling and expressing freely without judgement. Don’t assume that what you do in personthe tone, body language and energy you radiate to encourage respondent rapport and engagementis easily transferred to a video platform. There is distance between you and participants and between participants themselves. Subtle body movements, tones, whispers, eye expressions that we noticed and took for granted can go undetected in a virtual focus room. Paying even closer attention is mandatory. Think about the things you do that work well for you in person and how you can effectively alter and adapt them to the virtual environment.  

Thirdbe authentically empatheticDon’t assume that this is participant’s first Zoom “rodeo of the day nor that they are a pro at video callingThey are still living full lives and despite agreeing to take part in the research study, may not be fully present. Allow yourself to feel how being unemployed or working from home, fielding multiple conference calls, applying for jobs online, managing team remotely or household with everyone in it simultaneously, or home-schooling children for the first time, informs their attitudes and perceptions. Be patient and build in extra time for them to collect themselves and their thoughts.  

In order to get a full understanding of mindset and behavior changes, it important to not only have a good representation but also cultural understanding across all ethnicities in order to uncover the hidden stories that lead to critical insights and innovation. Make it a priority to be mindful that, because of racial, ethnic, gender, disabilities, and economic disparities, the pandemic has had a disparate impact on various segments. Build a strong, sharing, and meaningful connection by better understanding diverse cultures and validating unique experiences. 

Fourthincrease pivot-ability. As clients and brands pivot toward quick data insights from quantitative because itrelatively inexpensive and fast, accelerated qual interviews and even faster analysis and reporting will soon be the norm. However, qual by definition is not fast. Getting to the deep emotional recesses of the mind and memory takes time. As Einstein advised more than 100 years ago, time is relative. Pivoting to nimble online tech tools that combine and speed up parts of the qual methodology (such as fielding hybrid studies, insight gathering, analysis, and reporting) is essentialOur current fast-paced climate does not allow for clients to fully “embrace” the qual process, nor do some want toTo meet those emerging needswants, and expectations with more speed and acuity than before, qual researchers need to re-think their process and deliverables.  

Fifthbe even more curious. Everything around us is changing. The past, in many cases, is only a reference point. The more we hear from participants, the broader our understanding will be of the evolving impact of COVID 19. That means we have to be more curious and avoid the temptation to make assumptions. Try to really understand that things that were once tried and true may no longer hold that position, in the minds of respondents. Things that they believed were once under their control, no longer are. Where they felt safe before, even to the point of taking things for granted, they don’t anymore. There has been a paradigm shift. Explore ways to better understand and accurately interpret the new context from the eyes, ears, and circumstances of our study participants. 

COVID-19 has changed the rules of human interaction — which is the equivalent of a seismic shift in qualitative research. COVID-19’s forced contact deprivation coupled with the accelerated wide acceptance of video calling for both business and personal use has hastened a rethinking of how, when, who, and why we connect virtuallyAs the frequency of online qual research accelerates, we have a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to adapt what we know and create new best practices to facilitate a different, deeper, more meaningful interaction in a virtual environment. Obviously, the ideas presented here are by no means exhaustive but are designed to spark alternative thinkingAs you ruminate on all the possibilities, what approaches are you are re-thinking for this new post-COVID-19 research theater engagement? 

Roben AllongRoben Allong considers herself a research spelunker focused on exploring what lurks deep in the caverns of the global cultural zeitgeist. As CEO of Lightbeam Communciations, she is an innovative researcher with over a decade of knowledge and trend expertise across a broad spectrum of consumers, brands and industries. She is currently QRCA Board member and Chair of QRCA New York Metro Chapter. 

linkedin.com/in/robenallong 
twitter.com/trendiwendii 
IG @roben_the_researcher 

Barbara HairstonBarbara Hairston has a broad base of experience and expertise conducting studies for public health education, K-12 education, higher education, and social issues clients. Through her firm Resources International Inc., she conducts research using a variety of online and face-to-face methodologies to deliver the best possible research solutions among adults/seniors, general market and African American segments, physicians and allied health providers, and stakeholders.  

Linkedin.com/in/Barbara-kinlaw-hairston-32761a7 
Twitter.com/KinLawBH 

Tags:  communication  mobile research  QRCA Digest  Qualitative Methodologies  Qualitative Methods  Remote Market Research 

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Remote Research in the Time of Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Posted By LaiYee Ho, Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Remote Research in the Time of Coronavirus (COVID-19)

With offices mandating employees to work from home, and people across the world hunkering down, researchers everywhere are scrambling to figure out how to make it all work from their home offices. 

I’ve been doing remote research out of my home for years, so I thought I’d share a few tips and tricks from my own remote-research arsenal!

In-office conversations with colleagues: Try Slack

For all conversations, whether it’s discussions about business strategy, sharing ideas on research plans, or sharing random funny articles online, we use Slack. Slack enables us to have many fluid conversations at once, and to organize conversations by topic (such as #customer-discussions, #finance-accounting, #strategy).

Communication with participant recruits: Try Intercom

Rather than using email or a group email, consider using a CRM to communicate with research participants. I have used Intercom as a CRM and have found it incredibly helpful as a way to keep track who we reached out to for which study, and to keep a log of all the communication we’ve had so far with each recruit. It allows my team members to see the previous conversations and take over for me if necessary (something that’s nearly impossible in email). If Intercom doesn’t work for your particular client, consider checking out other group CRMs to solve the same problem.

Scheduling interviews: Try Calendly

Calendly is an incredible streamlined way to have participants schedule time for studies. It syncs directly with your calendar (for us, it’s Google calendar), and you can set parameters for when someone can schedule time. Just send them a link and they can instantly book a time with you.

In-depth interviews: Try Zoom

Zoom is an online video chat service with great video quality that is super easy to use. It can also support video chats with large groups of people if you’re running a study with more than one participant. You can also record the session (make sure to always ask for consent first!)

Compensating participants: Send digital gift cards

Compensate participants by sending digital Amazon gift cards. These will get emailed straight to them. As an additional tip, if you have international recruits in other countries that want a gift card for their local Amazon branch, purchase the gift card from that country’s Amazon site. (For instance, go to https://www.amazon.co.uk/ to send someone an Amazon UK gift card. Amazon gift cards aren’t transferable between countries once purchased.

Writing documents: Try Google Docs

If you were using Microsoft Word and emailing them around, or printing them out for colleagues to review, it’s time to switch to Google Docs. Google Docs is online and fully collaborative. Colleagues can comment directly in your document and collaboratively write with you in real time.

Transcript analysis and coding: Try DelveTool

If you were printing out transcripts and highlighting them using Post-it notes or using desktop based tools like NVivo or ATLAS.ti without online capabilities, consider switching to DelveTool. (Full disclosure, I’m the co-founder so I designed and created this tool out of my own pain points). Now that your research team is working remotely from their homes, DelveTool offers a way for your team to code and analyze a single project together from wherever they are.

Creating presentation decks: Try Paste by WeTransfer

If you were using Microsoft PowerPoint, it’s time to consider using Paste. It’s online, fully collaborative, and makes your decks absolutely beautiful with very little effort. It doesn’t have all the power features of PowerPoint, but that’s precisely the benefit. You can create gorgeous slides with just a quote on a single page or drop in a video clip from a research session. You’ll spend significantly less time making the deck and it will look 1000% better than a standard PowerPoint.

Streamlining and automating your process: Try Zapier

Zapier takes a bit of tech tinkering, but is a great way to automate any repetitive, manual tasks that you’re already doing. For example, if you’re keeping track of participant recruitment status in a Google Sheet, you can use Zapier to automatically update that spreadsheet when participants schedule an interview using Calendly.

Best of luck setting up your remote research workspace. If you have any questions or have recommendations that you want to share, please reach out to me!

 

LaiYee Ho is the co-founder of DelveTool, where she pours her years of experience as a UX researcher and designer into creating tools for researchers. Before beginning her entrepreneurial journey, she was one of the first UX designers of the Amazon Fire TV, where she learned about the importance of simplicity in design. She then went on to build the first UX research team at a smart home automation startup, where she learned how to uncover human motivations. She has a degree in Information Science from Cornell and lives in New York City.

Tags:  Market Research Technology  Marketing Technology  Remote Market Research  Remote Work  Research Methodologies  Research Methodology  Solopreneur 

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