Whether you are switching from face to face data collection or specifically designing a remote data collection tool, conducting remote data collection requires some specific considerations as outlined below.
What duration should the interview/ survey be?
For phone-based data collection, it is important to keep the duration of the interview/survey short for a number of reasons (including use of valuable phone time, battery usage, loss of interest from respondents). You may consider breaking up an interview into multiple phone calls if needed. More information about recommended durations of interviews/surveys via different modes of data collection are included in this report. Keeping interviews or surveys to short durations may require multiple rounds of piloting and revision of the questions. You will also need to consider which questions are most important and ensure these are at the beginning of the survey where they are more likely to be answered.
How will you obtain informed consent remotely and collect data ethically?
When collecting data over the phone, it is important to consider how to inform participants about the data collection activities and how to ask for their consent prior to collecting data. It’s also important to ensure you collect data ethically, especially during this pandemic when people may be more vulnerable. For guidance on how to do this, refer to our resource on ethics, consent, protection, and risk here.
How will the data be recorded?
If you would like to audio record a qualitative interview, you will need to obtain consent for making a recording. Recording devices should not be switched on before the interview/focus group begins and should be immediately turned off once it has concluded. There are apps that can be used to record phone conversations or alternatively a recorder can be placed next to the phone while it is used on loud-speaker mode.Taking notes on a computer or with a pen and paper can be done as a back-up, or if the participant does not consent to having the interview recorded. However, note taking while simultaneously conducting in-depth interviews is challenging and is likely to compromise either the quality of the conversation or the accuracy of documenting what is being said, so an additional person is recommended to serve as a note-taker. Some apps produce transcripts of verbal conversations.
For quantitative interviews, consider how data can be recorded to ensure high quality. It may be a good idea to include as many response options as you can think of in the survey forms to avoid the data collectors having to type lengthy notes. It is likely most efficient for data collectors to collect data on a computer or tablet that can then be sent directly to an online server but this may not always be possible in resource-limited settings. If collecting data via paper-based methods, consider how data will be entered on a computer later and what will be done with the hard copies (they will need to be safely secured or destroyed after use).
How will you ensure data protection?
Ensure that data collection staff can conduct the interview from a quiet room in their office or home to avoid disturbance during the interview and maintain privacy. Consider how the data will be stored and how you will ensure data safety. Phones, tablets and/ or computers used to collect data should be password protected. Consider how you will maintain confidentiality and anonymity for your participants if you need to share the findings of the research. If you are using technology-based platforms make sure to check the security measures in place.
Should participants be compensated?
Consider if you can offer participants compensation for their time. This is particularly necessary if the interview is taking place via technologies that could cost them money. For example, compensation may be needed to cover the costs of re-charging phones, purchasing phone credit or data and other opportunity costs. There are a range of ways that compensation can be provided. For example, this could include sending phone credit or money through mobile banking platforms such as M-pesa and Paytm.
What biases arise from remote data collection?
In some cases, remote qualitative data collection has been found to allow participants to speak more freely, for instance about the work of international aid organisations. This may be because there is less of a personal relationship formed between the interviewer and participant. It is also possible that this distance between the interviewer and respondent may reduce other common types of biases. For example participants may feel more ‘anonymous’ and therefore more able to accurately report on behaviours that are socially desirable. However, new biases may also be introduced during remote data collection. For example, it may be harder to hold the participant’s attention via the phone or other remote data collection formats. To minimise errors in reporting it might be useful to diversify the way you ask questions. Examples of how to design questions to minimise reporting bias or neutral responses are described in this blog along with information about other biases.
How will you hire and train data collectors and ensure high data quality?
Many data collectors will have little or no experience of collecting data remotely. It will therefore be very important to provide thorough training on this new mode of data collection. These two blogs include useful guidance on hiring and training data collectors and on ensuring high data quality. During training, include scenarios where respondents ask for more information related to COVID-19, report carrying out unsafe practices or report being a victim of abuse and teach data collectors how they should respond and what actions they should take. Some advice on this can be found in this report.
What are the logistical needs and how will you manage data collection teams ?
Consider what materials your data collectors will need, including whether they will require a different mobile number dedicated to this data collection activity. You will need to think through how you will keep track of data collected and what communication mechanisms you will put in place to regularly check in with your data collection teams. Detailed protocols should be written for how to conduct the data collection activity, from start to finish.
Want to know more about remote quantitative and qualitative approaches for understanding COVID-19 related behaviours and perceptions?