Online qualitative research has been used in market research to gain insight into consumer behaviour and attitudes. What can online qualitative research data collection tools offer? What are the benefits and limitations?
7 Online Qualitative Research Tools
The online qualitative research data tools I am interested in are for one-to-one interviews and focus groups.
For all the research tools explained below, pricing is generally not available on their website but it is possible to approach them for a quote that fits the needs of your research project.
- VisionsLive (www.visionslive.com) uses what it calls a ‘V+ Platform’ for online focus groups and interviews. It also offers bulletin boards, where a group of participants respond at their own leisure. For both interviews and group discussions, the moderator is able to use text or visual webcam discussions with participants. It is possible to use stimulus such as images for discussion on a whiteboard that can be annotated. An observer can also add comments and request questions are asked. Discussions are recorded and can be downloaded for analysis.
- LiveMinds (www.liveminds.co.uk) has the ability to use text, video, images or audio stimulus for the participants to comment on. There are analysis tools for live and offline analysis with the option of undertaking the research in 16 different major languages.
- Kernwert (www.kernwert.com) developed the ‘QDC Studio’, which participants can access on a range of hardware such as tablets, desktops and smartphones. Translation services are available. The software offers analysis tools online and offline. Like the previous tools, the ‘QDC Studio’ can host focus groups and interviews and use stimulus, which the participants can discuss.
- FocusVision (www.focusvision.com) offers the ‘VideoStreaming’ for interviews and focus groups. Remote viewers who are team members can participate in the research. All the VideoStreaming groups are recorded and it is possible to rewatch them. FocusVision also have a tool called ‘InterVu’ specifically for online focus groups.
- Recollective (www.recollective.com) offers the ability to screen participants for a study and uses ‘gamification’ to keep participants engaged. The team can control how responses are shared to limit influence plus multilingual services are available.
- Flex MR (www.flexmr.net/) offers the bulletin board too plus ‘Live Chat’ using video, audio or image stimulus. For the ‘Live Chat’, team members have the opportunity to observe the fieldwork with their own chat room, liaison between team members and the moderator, ‘quick polling’ to show how the participants agree or disagree to prompt discussion.
- itracks (www.itracks.com) offers telephone, video and text-based focus groups, where participants can provide feedback on images and videos. The ‘itracks Board’ enables respondents to provide their feedback over a set period.
What are the benefits and limitations of using online qualitative research tools?
We’ve briefly looked at the online qualitative research tools, there are many similarities across all of the software such as having multi-media stimulus for discussion. From an academic perspective, below are the benefits and limitations of using such software.
- Ethnographic approach: Most software facilitate ethnographic qualitative research projects.
- Openness: The participants would be in their own environment and could be more open.
- Convenience: Focus groups could be easier to organise as there is no travel, possibly making recruitment a little easier. The use of ‘bulletin boards’ allow participants to respond at their leisure within a set period of time. However, this technique perhaps doesn’t capture immediate responses like a live focus group, but more considered ones.
- Multi-media: Blogs, videos, audio and pictures can be easily used that can be commented on or collated to create a collage as a point of discussion. Also, participants can upload their own videos, audio and pictures that can be part of the qualitative study as sources of data.
- Multi-lingual: Some tools offer data collection in a number of different languages, which opens up many opportunities such as international research and research with non-English speaking groups residing in the UK. However, an interview-trained translator may have to facilitate the focus group and interview but some companies offer real-time translation services (Kernwert).
- Communities: It is possible to create research communities for a long period of time and may open opportunities for longitudinal research and for two-way feedback after the study has been completed. Participants could be offered the opportunity to feedback to the researchers about their experiences. Also, participants may find be more likely to follow-up the results of the study if online tools are used if it is a case of logging into a webpage with information about the findings as opposed to contacting the researcher directly to enquire.
- Familiarity: It is possible to use data collection tools that may be more familiar to young people such as instant messaging and uploading photos and videos.
- Cost-effective: This depends on both the tool and company used. For example, Flex MR start their focus group tools from £250. Taking into account the costs of focus groups: venue hire, refreshments, reimbursement of travel expenses and incentives, going online could be cost-effective.
- Parallel mixed-method data collection: If taking a mixed-method approach, online tools allow for immediate parallel qual and quant data collection.
- Diverse focus groups: Focus groups could be made up of geographically diverse focus groups as the participants are remote, which could add to the richness of data.
- Short time-frame: Time may have been saved through the convience of using online qualitative data collection tools and in turn, create a shorter time-frame for fieldwork.
- Participant engagement: Using online tools could be seen as exciting and novel by the participant and could improve engagement in the study.
- Remote access: Some software offers the opportunity for team members to observe the interviews and focus groups. This could be advantageous, particularly if relatively inexperienced interviewers are going into the field and need extra support. It also allows the Project Lead to monitor how data is being collected and can intervene as an observer through contacting the moderator/interviewer.
- Recorded Materials: As the focus groups or interviews may be recorded, it is possible to comment on non-verbal communication and include these in transcripts, making them more detailed. It may also make transcribing a little easier as it could be possible to look at the video footage and lip-read as audio recordings alone can be difficult to transcribe. Clips of the interviews (with permission of participants) could be used to illustrate points in future presentations of the findings.
- Power relationship: It could be argued that the interviewer is more powerful in the interviewer-interviewee relationship using a web platform or mobile app. The researcher may have to ask him or herself a number of ethics questions for example: How obligated does the interviewee feel to answer questions using online qualitative research methods? What are the ethical implications of using gamification as a form of incentive?
- Ethics: How do these tools comply with research ethics and university data policies? For example, how is consent gained and would it be easy for them to withdraw from the study? To help, the British Psychological Society have produced ethics guidelines for internet-mediated research, including online interviewing – http://www.bps.org.uk/system/files/Public%20files/inf206-guidelines-for-internet-mediated-research.pdf
- Costly: The use of online and mobile technology could be expensive compared to traditional techniques, depending on the tools and company.
- Recruitment: Recruiting participants may be difficult if reaching the public, in health for example, some organisations such as GP practices may not want to be seen to be promoting the research study and may not include the links on their website. Plus, if organisations have agreed to have the link on their website, the sample may be skewed towards those use these websites than representing the wider public. However, to what extent this applies depends on the sampling strategy. Although for businesses, this would not be a challenge as they want to target their customers using their website.
- Funding Justification: If writing a proposal to a funding body, it may be difficult to justify the use of instruments that reviewers have little experience of.
- Exclusion of groups: Online methods could exclude some groups of participants, however online methods would be justified based on the sample group.
- Confidentiality: Users may use their real-names and photos and it could put the identity of participants at risk but this could be overcome by using a pseudonym and a generic photo.
- Participant Misidentity: There is a possibility that participants could be dishonest about their identity and demographics.
Online qualitative research tools are geared for market researchers to use but could easily be used in academia with careful application and consideration.
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