QRCA Views Magazine, Winter 2018

Qualitative Research Consultants Association 43 Let’s take a look at how online communi- cation compares to face-to-face and how to determine which online research method works well given different objectives. Custom Designing Studies What once were two distinct qualita- tive research disciplines—online and in-person—are now two factors of many to consider when designing a research project. Objective, budget, location, interview length, study duration, group size, participant qualifications, means of communication, activities, and compen- sation all come together in the design. Custom-designing studies may sound daunting, but the strategy is fairly straightforward: know where you’re going and your options for getting there. In other words, understand which research designs will best achieve your objective within budget. Choosing the Right Method To determine which research method will work best, work backward from your research objective and consider the ele- ments of design (see Figure 1). For a qualitative researcher, the study objective is always due north. With a keen eye on the final destination, and ideally some understanding of the client’s budget, we can determine what is needed and plan the most appropriate path forward. Considering where you are going before you pack is an approach that is neither new nor revolutionary. Also known as “backward planning” among educators, “begin with the end in mind” is second on Stephen Covey’s popular list of “Seven Habits.” Meeting your client’s research objective is the goal—the big question your client needs answered so she can move forward. We start building our research design from here, because it is the only piece of the puzzle we usually have at this point. Additionally, knowing what decisions your client will be making from the research results is a nice bit of informa- tion to have, especially early in the design development. When the project is over for you, the business mission continues for your client. Bridge the gap from research findings to action- able insights, and you’re crossing the finish line a winner. Engage to Deliver The research objective and the client’s budget help determine the best means of engagement. Each of five basic online qualitative approaches offers something different (see Figure 2). • Online offers anonymity, prompting freedom of expression without the risk of others’ judgmental gazes. Sensitive topics or shy respondents benefit from anonymous settings like bulletin boards and chat groups. • In-person allows for facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice, offering the researcher multiple factors from which to gauge response. • Real-time offers immediacy, giving the researcher instant feedback for analysis. • Extended time studies allow for track- ing thoughts and behaviors over multi- ple days. • Groups offer a dynamic exchange of communication and reactions to ideas and expressions of others, while one- on-ones are more intimate. • Text-only conversations allow for anon- ymous freedom of expression. Visibly fleeting communications, as in scrolling text in an online focus group, also can bolster feedback, as deep or divisive dis- cussions are most effective when the communication lacks permanence and is not continually visible to participants. • Audio allows participants to be heard, while audio/video adds a face, and thus some non-verbal communication, to the voice. Multi-media capabilities offer engagement choices. Tools are the last piece of the research design puzzle. The increase in tech devices has led to an influx of tech appli- cations, so if you are looking for a partic- ular engagement in a particular format with a particular deliverable, you’ll have no trouble finding several options. From Elements of Qual Research Design • Client’s Budget • Location of Engagement • Interview Length & Study Duration • Group Size • Participant Needs • Means of Communication • Activities • Compensation Location Participants Timing Means of Communication IDI Online 1 Real-time Two-way audio or audio/video IDI In-Person 1 Real-time Face to face Chat Group Online 12-20 Real-time Two-way text, one-way multi-media Chat Group In-Person 6-10 Real-time Face to face Board Online 12-20 Extended Two-way, multi-media Webcam Group Online 3-5 Real-time Two-way audio/video Community Online 50+ Extended Two-way multi-media Figure 1. Consider design elements to determine which method will work best Figure 2. Each online qualitative approach offers something different