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Moderating online qual projects during Covid-19

During the global crisis caused by Covid-19 and the Coronavirus, qualitative research has come to the forefront as the best way to understand people's changing attitudes and behaviours, and discover whether they want and need your products and services. It’s a method that has evolved, resulting in online qual now being the best, and sometimes only, way to dive deep into people’s everyday lives to understand what’s taking place and why.

Online qual and research communities may just have become the best way to dive deep into people’s everyday lives and understand what’s taking place and why, but conducting this type of research successfully still requires skills, especially at this difficult time.  

To do online qual well, you need a great moderator – someone who listens well, is able to empathise with the subject and who knows when to probe deeper, and when not to. But right now, as the global pandemic surrounds us all, you and your moderators need to take stock and take a slightly different approach to some things.

We’ve spoken to many moderators around the world over the last three weeks, and here’s what we learned and some tips that will help your online qual project be a success despite the challenges of Covid-19.

Don’t incentives less

It would be easy to think that because more people are at home and (might) have more time on their hands, they’ll be willing to accept less of a reward for participation. This is the wrong way to play it! Many people face financial hardship and uncertainty, so trying to offer them less is insensitive and disrespectful. Instead, you might want to focus on adding more social and emotional incentives - make people feel heard and valued by moderating with even more personalisation and responsiveness - and see the change in results.

We've also experienced that people want to participate in a what they see as a pivotal moment in history. They are share their experiences as a way to record how they feel and what they are doing during this period as well as just to help overcome the boredom and monotony of being indoors! 

Be more flexible with your time, and theirs

With more people at home and experiencing more distractions than ever before, they will find it hard to follow a prescribed timeline. Be more flexible with the time you offer them in support of your work, but also give them more mop-up time in case they don’t finish all of your tasks in the allotted time.

Your platform provider (including Further) will happily give you extra time if you ask for it.

Empathise more

Treat your participants (real people like you and I) with the trust and respect they deserve right now. Everyone is suffering in different ways, so accept their limitations and understand what they are experiencing and how this might differ to others and to you and your own experiences.

Your participants will feel your empathy, whether it’s delivered online via email or in-person, and they will respond positively to it, which in turn will vastly improve the quality of your data. Moderate well and participants will want to give more, help more and offer up ideas that you’d never dreamt of.

Listen harder

As a moderator, it’s likely you’ll have less of a challenge getting people to open up as they have more to say and more context to share, let alone more time on their hands (potentially). The best moderators can pose great questions in just a few words, so design your line of questioning carefully and be ready to listen harder than ever to pick up the clues about how the changes in their work/life balance is shifting their attitude towards brands, products and services.

But….don’t overwhelm your participants. This is a time of high emotion, so know when to dial up and dial down.

Go deeper around the edges

Meandering around subjects and topics is all part of the dance, and during times of crisis there are more things happening around the edges of life than usual. Be sure to capture them and the effect they have on your subject’s attitudes and behaviours.

Consider using ‘community forums’ - allowing your research participants to create their own chat rooms to talk about issues that matter to them, not just to you. We find that this ‘bottom-up’ approach complements well the ‘top-down’ (researcher-led) approach. It provides an outlet and an element of social validation which can help make the online research community a destination for participants to go to.


Download Further's Guide To Qualitative Research to help you become a better researcher.


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