Adjusting and Readjusting
Life, COVID, and Qualitative Research
If nothing else, the pandemic has taught us that nothing stays the same for long.
At the end of April I had a clear vision of my spring and summer: deep cleaning and setting up our cabin for the season, training for and hiking Mount Katahdin in July, traveling to the Bahamas for the wedding of a dear friend. Spoiler alert: none of that happened, or will happen, as planned. In early May I contracted COVID and the trip to the Bahamas was canceled (causing me to recycle those airline miles yet again). At the end of May, I fractured my tibia: no Katahdin and a much slower approach to setting up the cabin (and settling for “tidy” rather than “deep cleaned.”) What else can we do when things change but try to adjust?
I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s happened with qualitative research over the last two years. The good news: we all pivoted to online, and it worked. There are many tools for virtual groups and IDIs, some of which we’d already been using for years and some new. I even conducted in-depth new product testing and packaging research online, which pushed the limits of what I thought digital methods were suited for.
While the increased comfort with online methods is clearly a good thing, it’s important not to stay too rooted in digital methods. There is still room for - and need for - in-person research.
What I miss most about in-person research is, frankly, its very human messiness: managing respondent crosstalk, sorting through papers from handwritten exercises, translating handwriting, experiencing the ups and downs of emotions expressed directly from person to person.
If I were simply results-oriented, I could live with online qualitative: it gets the job done, and it can do it extremely well. But qualitative research is not just about results: it’s about the messy human journey that gets us there. Maybe it’s time again to readjust and recalibrate. Keep those digital methods in your toolbox, but remember in-person as well.
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