So, you need to do some online qualitative research. Perhaps you’re coming to it for the first time as a result of the pandemic. Perhaps you’ve used one online method, such as an online community, and are looking to explore something new, such as real-time online focus groups, or online ethnography . Or maybe you’re just looking for a platform with more functionality.
Whatever your situation, there are so many online qualitative suppliers and platforms in the market, it can be hard to evaluate them effectively.
If you’re looking for advice on what to look for in a platform in terms of capabilities and tools then this is the blog for you. And, if you're in rush, we've put together a handy downloadable cheat sheet to keep on your desktop for the next time you're out 'shopping', just start scrolling and you'll see the form to your right or at the end of the article.
But when it comes to online qual, it's as much about the support team behind the platform as it is the software itself. So here are seven questions that don’t often get asked, but that you should prioritise when evaluating and choosing an online qualitative research supplier:
1. What is the background and expertise of the people we will be working with?
Do they come from a market research background or are they more focused on the software? If you intend to do the research yourself and are looking for a platform-only solution then you may be less interested in the quality of the research and project support team behind the platform.
However (and full disclosure, we are research specialists here at Further) we feel that even in this situation, the team behind creating and developing the platform is important because the software will be designed specifically to deal with all of the nuances and complexities of online research and to tackle and overcome the same types of challenges and frustrations you’ll experience on your projects. Ask your prospective supplier to demonstrate that they understand your challenge and to share with you how their system would solve it.
2. Who will be actually working on our projects?
Following on from the last point, if you meet research experts in the pitch meeting, will they actually be involved in your project? Or will you be assigned less qualified staff once the project is underway, who can deal with the administration of the project, but are less likely to offer expert guidance?
3. Why is the method we have chosen a good fit for our project?
This is a great way to understand more about the background of the supplier team and to assess their expertise. Will they challenge your brief or just accept it as is, when there might be a better option to achieve the outcome you are looking for?
For example, can they talk knowledgeably about why you would use a community versus a panel? Or an asynchronous community versus a real-time focus group ? Do they have ideas for the type of tools and activities you can use? And can they make the links between the method you have chosen, your research objectives and you – or your client’s - wider business objectives?
4. How do you recruit participants?
The quality of the research is only as good as the quality of the participants you recruit. If you aren’t supplying your customer lists for the research and you’re looking to recruit participants that fit a particular profile, it is important to know which sources the supplier is using, whether they recruit in-house or work with third-party recruitment agencies.
As well as the source of the sample, you need to understand what validation and quality measure the supplier uses, such as pre-interviewing participants to ensure that they can make a good contribution and to prevent ‘professional’ respondents from taking part.
Finally, if you have a particularly tricky brief, you might also want to understand more about their approach towards finding and engaging seldom-heard participants, or those who are time-poor and difficult to recruit, such as doctors or teachers. See our definitive guide to online qual recruitment here.
5. What other projects have you done with a similar audience to ours?
This is particularly important if you are working with more specialist or niche audiences. What experience can they bring to the project?
For example, if you are conducting research amongst young people, do they have young researchers who can help make sure that the research is relevant to the audience? If you are talking to older people, do they know which types of activities are most effective with that age group? Or the best ways to onboard and engage those who may not be as digitally literate?
And if you are dealing with personal subjects – such as health and wellbeing – can they help you to frame questions that will get in-depth insights, whilst respecting participants’ sensitivities?
6. What happens if there is a problem with the project?
You‘re conducting a multinational online community, and the platform crashes on the other side of the world while you are asleep. Or nobody shows up to your carefully recruited online focus group. Or there is a participant who is being rude and offensive to other participants.
Check out what level of support you will get from your supplier, what contingency measures they have in place, and how they will handle problems. Ask them to give examples and assess how open they are to discussing what can go wrong.
7. How do you handle data protection, security and privacy?
These are key areas that are often missed in the pitch discussions, which tend to focus on methods, times and costs. However, getting any of these wrong can be problematic, especially as so many people are now working from home and processing data – such as participant’s names and contact details – on personal laptops.
As well as data protection and GDPR requirements, there are additional complexities that relate specifically to market research data. For example, will your supplier deal with issues of participant consent? You don’t want to put together a beautiful video montage of participants talking about your product, only to find out that the consent wasn’t worded correctly to allow you to share it with stakeholders.
It’s clichéd to say that people buy from people but, in this case, it bears repeating. These questions that often get forgotten need to be asked when you are evaluating suppliers because it’s the team behind the platform, their expertise and experience and the processes and protections they have in place that can really make the difference.