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Improving Online Research

With COVID-19 moving a lot of market research online, we thought it’d be a good idea to highlight some considerations for getting deeper insights using remote and online methodologies. Although most of our work usually includes an in-person visit, we are big fans of video diaries and generally include those in our project toolkit as well as the occasional online interview. Right now, we think pairing online interviews with video diaries makes for a great, one-two punch.

Stay in-context if possible

Just because we aren’t there, doesn’t mean that life isn’t going on and that people aren’t still doing all of the things we are interested in learning about. The key for ethnographers is always trying to capture those moments (and the context around those moments) that help us learn about how something occurs. Being able to watch a person do something is exponentially more interesting than asking them to describe it. The messiness of observing real life is not replaceable, but we have found that it is possible to do some of that remotely.

Encourage participants to show and tell you more

When we visit participants in their homes or at their workplaces, we always let them know that we will likely want to see everything. Ethnographers know that it is not enough to ask people to show you the thing that you are interested in without seeing how it fits into the daily life and the physical space of the person using it. We always go deep in trying to get a handle on the routines, rituals, and habits of our participants. We also generally ask for tours of their whole homes because we know that the front stage spaces of someone’s home or work usually tells us far less than the backstage stage spaces. Touring homes remotely is possible. We have been doing them for years, usually with video diaries.

Be inductive

We approach all of our work assuming that we don’t already know the answers. We look to our participants to show us not only what is important but also in how to think about and talk about what is important. We learned a long time ago that no matter how much we would like to be the expert, when we are trying to get a handle on how a specific person uses a product or what it is like to live with a particular disease, no one knows more than the person in question. Therefore, all of our observations, interviews, and analyses are funneled through an inductive approach, which is just as easy to do remotely as in person.

Give it some time

Deep understanding takes some time to achieve. It would be great if we could drop into someone’s life for a few hours and learn everything we needed to know to ground a brand or to design a new product, but life (and especially culture) is more complicated than that. Whether you are trying out online interviews or launching some video diaries, it is probably a good idea to plan on investing a little more time than your initial instinct. Not only does more time result in more instances of what you want to observe, it also allows for more opportunities to capture variation in routine. Allowing our participants to keep diaries for a few weeks always results in way better data. Allowing them to keep video diaries for a few months is always amazing.

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