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How to choose your online qual and research community software

Published 16 Apr 2016 | Updated 24 feb 2021 4 minute read

Online qual

Step one: Are you after a panel or a research community?

Choosing the most appropriate software for your project starts with being clear about the nature of your online research.

The first thing to consider is whether you’re better served by a research community or by a panel. For a comprehensive overview of the difference between panels and communities, please read this article.

As a brief overview:

  • Panels are better suited to quantitative research: they allow you to quantify – for example - how many people are engaging in a particular behaviour or would be attracted to a particular product. If the question you’re asking starts with ‘How many people...’ or ‘Which of these options...’ there’s a good chance you’re looking for a panel. They are better for breadth than depth.
  • Research communities are better suited to qualitative research: exploring an issue, question or problem in depth. For example, ‘Why is my competitor’s product doing better than mine?’ or ‘How do South Asian communities feel about parks?’ If the question you’re asking starts with ‘Why...’ or ‘How do...’ there’s a good chance you’re looking for a research community. These are best for deep diving into a specific topic or audience.

Panels and research communities require different tools, so you need to know what you’re after before you start making decisions about software!

  • Research community software offers an array of qualitative tasks, exercises and discussion (e.g., mark-up tools for projective exercises and concept feedback). It’s software that enables a relationship to develop between the moderator or community manager and the participant. This makes them able to iterate, adapt and explore new insights very quickly
  • Technology and software for panel communities focuses more on questioning via surveys with large samples of hundreds or even thousands of respondents. As these are all about comparisons, they are hard to change direction (you don’t want to compromise validity at this scale!).

Want to know more about choosing the right software for an online qualitative research or research community? Keep reading!

Step two: Think about the size, scale and purpose of your research community

Choosing the right software for online qualitative research or research communities

Everybody has a slightly different perception when they think of a online qual research community, but fundamentally they can be distinguished according to size, scale and purpose.

Here’s a matrix to help you identify the community that you may need:

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Step three: Ask the right questions

So, you know the nature of your online research and you have an idea about the size and scale that’s right for you. Now it’s time to talk software! Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Does the software have the functionality my project needs? For example, does it allow me to keep track – easily – of participant engagement?
  • Which platforms is the software compatible with? Do I find those platforms user-friendly?
  • Is it easy for me to use the software – does it feel intuitive?

You want to make sure the software meets all of the needs of your project and that it will make your job easier. Done that? Now there’s another important question to consider:

  • How easy is it to work with the team behind the software?

The nature of qualitative research is that it uncovers the unexpected. That makes it rich and rewarding. But it also makes life unpredictable! The team behind the software are the people who have the deepest understanding of the software, so it’s also key to ask:

  • Will the team be on-hand to help me with any issues that crop up?
  • Do they have the background and understanding – both of the software and of the intricacies of qualitative research – to help me adapt what I’m doing and avoid mistakes?
  • Am I confident that we’ll have a supportive working relationship?

Step four: The checklist

Now you know what you’re looking for, here’s a checklist of the 12 things to consider when you’re looking at online qual software. Ready, set, tick!

  1. Administrative experience - From an administrative perspective, always select a platform that helps to minimize or eliminate any unnecessary legwork. Does the platform provide the ability to upload members in batches (rather than one by one) and set auto reminder notifications? Does it have a user-friendly interface? Can tasks be administered and updated quickly and easily?
  2. Participant Experience – Check if the user experience is a positive, joyous one. Is the software easy to use? Will your participants have problems doing what you’re asking of them? The best way to decipher this is often to request a demonstration and have a hands-on experience before you commit to anything.
  3. Accessibility – Is the software web-based and thus accessible by anyone with a connected device, or is there an app that requires people to have a smartphone? App-based solutions have their benefits, but there are fewer users of smartphones in the world than there are connected devices (i.e., PCs, laptops, tablets, mobile phones, etc.).
    We always recommend browser-based, device agnostic software platforms for your research community. This ensures that all participants have equal opportunity to be involved. You want a consistent user experience for everyone, regardless of how they are accessing the community and what device they are using.
  4. Toolkit / Functionality– What qual and quant tools do you need? Are you planning on concept testing? How does the software handle visual stimulus?
    Ask your vendors to supply you with a list of the features so you can compare, but don’t just select the one with the most features – select the one that’s most appropriate for the job you need to do.
  5. Performance – Does the software perform well? Do pages load quickly, and how long does it take to upload pictures and video?
  6. Support – Does the vendor provide additional help and support if I needed? What happens when I hit problems, who do I turn to? And what if I want some help designing my online research – can the vendor help with that?
  7. User Roles – You’ll typically need individual roles for moderators, participants and observers, so make sure these are covered. But, going deeper, do you also need administrators, translators and recruiters on the platform? Make sure these have been considered and that you have a solution in place.
  8. Synchronicity – Do you need a synchronous (live) or an asynchronous (sequential) solution? If you want to run live online focus groups, then you need a synchronous solution, but for research communities and bulletin board focus groups an asynchronous solution is what you require.
  9. Cost – It’s a good idea to start your search with a budget in mind as this will help you work backwards and kick-start conversations with potential vendors. The complexity of your requirement will have a sway on the cost, as may things like the level of support, language requirements and toolkit.
  10. Training – The cost of training can be just as expensive, not just in monetary value but also in time, so be sure to choose a software platform well in advance to give you plenty of time to become accustomed to its capabilities.
  11. Security – Everyone needs the confidence that their privacy is being protected. In light of the potential for your software to be handling personally identifiable information (PII), security for your data is vitally important.
    Security considerations should include password protection capabilities, privacy settings, backups, encryption and more. Be sure to request your vendor’s information on this since your client is likely to ask.
  12. Customisation and brand-ability– Can the platform be branded to reflect a given topic or subject matter, and can my agency or organisation have its logo appear?

Finding the right market research technology is a key factor in getting the research insights you need. Want a demo of our user-friendly, online qual software? Get in touch with our team, today.

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