The worldwide pandemic we find ourselves in doesn’t mean research needs to stop; it needs to adjust to reach people remotely. But even so, when participants’ mindset is not ‘normal’, how will the results be affected?

In terms of people taking part in research, the majority of quantitative surveys will not be affected; in fact, response rates may rise as people are more accessible and their time is less pressurised. In the past couple of weeks, we have seen requests for surveys rise dramatically.

Additionally, there are qualitative methods to engage with people, using platforms such as UserZoom (moderated or unmoderated remote testing) or Maze (Click testing), Zoom (moderated remote focus groups), Indeemo (Diary studies) or even using WhatsApp (it’s encrypted and secure) for remote interviewing.

So long as GDPR issues are adhered to – ensuring research participants agree upfront to the screen sharing/recording of the session and storing their data – there’s no reason to not use these approaches.

Technical considerations

Remote research needs to be designed carefully. A pilot interview isn’t enough, because you’ll need to schedule enough time to ensure participants have the technical skills to know how to take part. You’ll also need a backup plan for any participant wi-fi connection dropouts; researchers should be using ethernet connections.

Ensure you use a trained researcher who has plenty of remote research experience. Whilst 1-2-1 remote sessions are fairly straightforward, group sessions can test the patience and skills of any researcher. If you are running groups remotely, only invite 5 participants to avoid ‘talkover’.

Consider the current mindset

When we design interview guides, moderate and analyse responses, it is important to consider how people are currently viewing life. UCL has launched a study into the psychological and social effects of Covid19 in the UK, with a view to tracking the effects on mental health, loneliness, financial insecurity and wellbeing. You can take part here.

Researchers should consider how responses in surveys or remote interviews could be affected. People may be feeling more depressed than usual, sleeping badly, over or under eating, struggle to concentrate, feeling nervous and anxious, being easily irritated etc.

If people are coping well, they may still be concerned by media coverage and the global fall out of what we are living through. There may be subconscious issues that are yet to emerge.

How does this affect commercial research?

Everyone has ‘bad’ days that probably result in more negativity in scoring and sentiment. In usual circumstances, this effect tends to be diluted across the sample with those having ‘good’ days. It’s fairly well known in the research industry that a Thursday afternoon is a good time to launch a survey when people are most responsive and in a positive frame of mind.

However, it’s very likely that at the moment there will be a much higher propensity to be negative.

This will most likely result in lower scoring or less favourable sentiment. People may feel that at times like this the topic in question may be of low relevance right now, or even worse, a futile exercise that is not worthwhile considering seriously.

Their concentration levels may be low meaning they do not comprehend ideas carefully, or they may lose their patience with arduous tasks such as long surveys or complicated tasks.

How to deal with the effects of a negative mindset

In our view, it’s all about acknowledging to research participants the situation we are all in and that life, including business, needs to continue.

A well-written statement at the beginning of a survey or interview will help to get people into the right mindset. Acknowledging that ‘everyone is going through the same thing’, ‘this is an opportunity to take your mind off of it’, or ‘help us to continue improving products and services during this difficult time’ will set the tone for more balanced responses.

Finishing off with a heartfelt, sincere message will also help to ensure participants feel it was time well spent. If possible, give a donation of each response to a relevant charity, so that participants feel good about taking part.

Finally, if the results are, in the researcher’s view, unduly negative, ensure a note is present in the report to exercise caution. A common-sense approach will help to ensure that outputs are sensitive to the current social climate we find ourselves in.

If you’d like to set up a call to discuss our remote research expertise, please get in touch via the contact page.