How can qualitative data collection be done remotely?
Fiona Majorin avatar
Written by Fiona Majorin
Updated over a week ago

Utilising methods that avoid face-to-face interactions with participants is key for minimising transmission of COVID-19. For this reason, many research institutions consider face-to-face data collection unethical during the COVID-19 pandemic and suggest minimizing direct interactions when not urgent. Below we outline several method options for remote qualitative data collection:

  • Interviews - You can conduct in-depth interviews or key informant interviews via mobile phone. Interviews can include a mix of open-ended questions and more structured questions. Live interviews like these are good for exploring opinions or experiences and allow the interviewer to ask follow-up questions in response to what the participant says. These types of interviews generate rich data that can be useful for developing or adapting programmes.

  • App-based interview/discussion methods - Chatting applications like Skype, Zoom and WhatApp can be used to facilitate interviews and group discussions in a range of written, audio or video based formats. For short surveys, participants can have the option of responding to questions by text or voice messages. Qualitative WhatsApp surveying was utilised in this project conducted with Syrian refugees living among host communities in Lebanon. Chatting apps also give the interviewer or facilitator the option to start a conversation with a single person or with a whole group. Some app-based communication formats can also allow video-based discussions which can aid in creating a forum that may be more similar to a conventional in-person focus group discussion or interview. However if taking this approach, you should be mindful of how much internet data usage the participant will need in order to participate and compensate them accordingly.

  • Photovoice, video or voice elicitation - This involves asking participants to take pictures, videos or voice recordings about their everyday practices and send them to your data collection teams. They can transfer photos, images or recordings by using multimedia messaging (MMS), chatting apps or email. For this to work effectively it’s useful to ask participants to document a specific topic or theme. For further guidance on how to do photovoice see the guidance on this website. As discussed above, be mindful of internet data usage charges for sending and compensate appropriately.

  • Diaries or journaling - This involves asking participants to write diaries or journals. This can be done with a pen and paper or digitally through any of the tools mentioned above. It could be combined with interviews to discuss the diary entries in more depth. Diaries are good for capturing people’s perceptions and observations of events in the moment that they are happening (e.g. after listening to a press conference about COVID-19 or after having an aspect of their lives affected by the pandemic), or of tracking behavior over some interval of time. Here is an example of a diary study being used in the UK to document COVID-19 experiences.

Other resources on methods:

  • Doing Field Work in a Pandemic:This document provides comprehensive guidance for those using social research methods during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the methods described in this document are suitable for populations with high literacy and good access to technology. However, there are some methods that could be applied in low-literacy settings and with low access to smartphones.

  • Best practices for conducting phone surveys: This article from J-PAL includes a list of other commercial or open source software that can be used for both qualitative and quantitative remote data collection.

Want to know more about remote quantitative and qualitative approaches for understanding COVID-19 related behaviours and perceptions?

Editor's Note

Authors: Fiona Majorin and Astrid Hasund Thorseth
Review: Julia Rosenbaum, Kondwani Chidziwisano, Sheillah Simiyu, Katrina Charles, Li Ann Ong, Rob Hope
Last update: 10.06.2020

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