Introduction to Online Qualitative Research and Best Practices

May 2017 – Introduction to Online Qualitative Research and Best Practices

Over the past few months, we have observed a heightened interest in our online qualitative research capabilities. Based on these enquiries we have decided to put together a reference guide to help researchers get their bearings with online qualitative research and best practices.

At i-Link Research, we offer a range of simple online qualitative solutions built for research. Our online qualitative research is delivered through i-Link's two feature-packed tools: i-Discuss for conducting over-time focus groups and i-Focus for conducting interactive real-time focus groups.

Benefits of online qualitative research:

  • Accessible
    • Real time discussion groups enable researchers to conduct In-Depth Interviews in real time irrespective of the participant’s location, it also provides the respondent anonymity allowing them to share more freely when discussing sensitive topics.
    • Over time discussion boards enable asynchronous participation meaning participants don’t all need to be available at the same time. Especially helpful if your audience is a specialist group such as doctors or busy parents.
  • Cost effective
    • As the qualitative boards are hosted in a virtual environment, there is no need to maintain physical meeting rooms or provide refreshments. Online qual doesn’t need to cover these costs so you are only paying for the essentials you need – the virtual meeting space – discussion board, your respondents will bring along everything else.
  • Faster
    • Online removes many of the barriers associated with qualitative research. You don’t need everyone to all be in one place at one time providing much greater scheduling flexibility. You will have an electronic text record of what someone said so you can quickly review what was said and in what context. As the group transcript can be easily exported as a word document, you can sift through the data more effectively helping you speed up the analysis process. 

What are the online qualitative options?

  •  What is important here is working out what you want to do with your group and the core functionality you require. For most of the researchers we have spoken to, their needs fall into two rather neat baskets.

The two most popular options are:

1. Live (real-time) online focus groups

  • Real-time discussion groups enable researchers to conduct In-Depth Interviews (IDI’s) in real time, irrespective of the participant’s location, it also provides the respondent anonymity allowing them to share more freely when discussing sensitive topics.
  • Tend to be used with 1-10 respondents at a time. If it’s your first time a smaller group will typically help prevent you from feeling overwhelmed.
  • Great for: 1-on-1 question probing, small group concept ideation, scenario exploration, in the moment attitudes and values.
  • Great for overcoming: geographic constraints, time zones, scheduling constraints, participant accessibility/hesitation with Central Location Testing (CLT)
  • Popular length: 45 mins – 1 hour.

 

 

 

 

2. Over time online discussion groups.

  • Over time discussion boards enable asynchronous participation meaning participants don’t all need to be available at the same time. Especially helpful if your audience is a specialist group such as doctors or busy parents.
  • Tend to be used with 5-30 respondents in an online group discussion. If it’s your first time a smaller group will typically help prevent you from feeling overwhelmed, however, one of the great advantages with over-time groups is because not everyone is on at the same time there is a lower in the moment time pressure on the researcher.
  • Great for: Idea evolution, organic group discussion, website reviews, consumer product tests over 2-3 weeks and adapting discussion as it takes place, providing access to respondents that would not normally have time to participate due to scheduling etc or simply have no interest in being in a room with strangers.
  • Great for overcoming: geographic constraints, time zones, scheduling constraints, participant accessibility/hesitation with Central Location Testing (CLT), respondent bias or non-disclosure that can be present in traditional face-to-face groups.
  • Popular length: 1-3 days, 4-10 days or 11-21 days.

 


You will need a few things to have a qual session run smoothly:

  • A plan – we call this a discussion guide – if you have run qual research before this won’t be new to you. The discussion guide is all the talking points/questions you want to cover with your respondents. Do you need them to view stimulus? Is it an image, or website?
  • Technical requirements – an understanding of what you would like your interaction with respondents to look like and what the online qualitative platform can handle. Does the platform support all web browsers? How many respondents do you need to manage at a time? Does it have an intuitive mailroom to help you manage: prompts, invitations and communication with your respondents?
  • Participant success – this is thinking through things like your demographic, will they be able to do what you are asking? Does the guide design make sense? Does it have a logical flow, are the instructions clear? Sharing why you are doing this research and setting expectations early are important for maintaining your respondent’s attention and engagement. Remember online you also have the added advantage of including visual stimulation with every question, generally the more visually rich the research, the more interesting the discussion.

A few more things to consider:

  • Market Research vs. Technology Background.

Is the provider first and foremost from the market research industry or are they a tech company? Research based providers have a better understanding of how you can use the platform to help you reach your research goals. Tech tends to be focused purely in on the technical solution only.

  • Onboarding Process.

Does the provider offer an onboarding process to help you become familiar with the platform?

  • Technical Support Availability.

Sometimes technical situations come up or things don’t quite go to plan. Does the provider offer you the option for technical support?

  • Global vs. Regional Capabilities.

Is the provider based here in Australia or overseas? This is important to consider as it will generally have a bearing on whether the data is stored in Australia or somewhere oversea’s. Does the provider have global capabilities? Can you or your audience be anywhere in the world? Does the platform work seamlessly across borders?

Gamifying online qualitative research.

These platforms offer a unique opportunity for researchers to offer bonus incentives. Some of the examples that are used with good success in online qualitative groups are rewards for:

Most posts, most articulate, completion of a specific task, most creative (storyboard).

The important thing to remember here is what you are trying to reward? It’s about encouraging full involvement both completion and quality of engagement and trying to make the process as fun as possible, especially if you have a topic that is very dry or boring (insurance).

It can't all be perfect, right?

One of the only drawbacks when conducting online qual vs face to face qual is the potential loss of non-verbal cues. However as we have become more native with electronic communication it normally doesn’t take long to adjust, we find that clear instruction explaining why you are conducting the research and your expectations tend to nullify any potential effect, as your participants will have a clearer understanding of what is required of them, but it is something to keep in mind if you are someone that relies on intuition and cues.

 

If you would like further information about our online qualitative solutions or would like to talk through a project you are thinking about running please feel free to contact: Patrick, Mark or Scott for more information.

i-Link Research          

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