Due to the movement restrictions that are in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be impossible for external researchers/field staff to travel to or move around in the participant community to collect data. In this case, you may consider using individuals from the local community to help with data collection. These individuals can act as “fixers'' who help identify and recruit participants, and may also carry out the data collection.
Fixers may be identified from previous work in the community, via recommendations, or through advertising online, and should be interviewed remotely.
Depending on the research methods, fixers may be selected based on their:
Ownership of a smartphone
Fluency in the local language and dialects
Fluency in the language of the recruiting organisation.
If a large team is required, you may choose to select one of the local fixers to act as the team leader who will help to organise the rest of the team in the field.
As well as being able to move within the community during phases of the outbreak where movement is restricted, using people from the local community is also advantageous because they have an understanding of local cultural, social, and behavioural backgrounds and the geographical area. One example where this approach was successfully adopted is during the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone where local people with self-owned smartphones installed with data collection software were paired with local motorbike drivers to travel to eligible villages and collect mapping and village data.
Fixers may be used to support the following activities:
Securing village, government or other local approvals
Identifying and recruiting participants
Providing participant contact numbers to researchers
Acting as a contact point - i.e fixers may need to share their own phone or smartphone with the participant whilst the researcher conducts the interview or responses are sought via other qualitative data collection methods
Translation - verbally during interviews or translating text
Delivering incentives to participants (money or otherwise)
Collecting quantitative or qualitative data. Fixers may be responsible for collecting data on a smartphone. Data collection tools, such as Open Data Kit (ODK) or mWater allow data to be collected on a smartphone and submitted to an online server, even without an internet connection or mobile carrier service at the time of data collection.
Remote training should be given to fixers on how to download and use data collection tools, on data collection ethics and consent processes, and on navigating challenges that may arise.
Common concerns when using fixers to support data collection include the following:
Without a researcher on the ground to oversee the work, data may be collected from the wrong respondents or may be fabricated. To reduce this risk, fixers can be asked to log the GPS coordinates of respondents. Also try to regularly engage with fixers or local data teams that you may establish. Having weekly calls to discuss and overcome common challenges may improve data quality and the satisfaction of your team.
If the people participating in the data collection receive an incentive to complete an interview or survey then they may be concerned about fixers collecting a “commission” from them. To mitigate this, respondents should be clearly informed about if they will receive an incentive and what this incentive is prior to data collection (i.e. during the consent process).
Want to learn more about remote data collection?