How to Collect Data for Primary Research During Covid-19

Primary Research
COVID-19 isn't just altering everyday life; it’s also upending psychological research. As universities and colleges across the country go virtual, researchers are scrambling to protect their human participants and animal subjects, their scholarship and their careers. The COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns have forced us to shift from traditional approaches of in-person data collection for research and evaluation to remote, or mostly remote, practices. Given an example by a dissertation writing service, in many cases, it's no longer allowable or ethical for data collectors to conduct fieldwork because of the risks associated with face-to-face interviews and observations. Although this has implications for evaluation design, the quality of the information collection, as well as our ability to work closely with our evaluation partners, we are committed to maintaining both the quality and integrity of the research.

Evaluation Style:
While the overall objectives and research questions have remained largely consistent, it’s been necessary to optimize existing data sources and streamline information collection approaches. Given the challenges of securing primary information, we will rely more heavily on existing reports and data sources, including routine data, and build on and validate them for some variables rather than duplicate data with our primary data collection. We have also decided to conduct more key informant interviews in lieu of focus group discussions, which might require in-person congregation or more complex remote solutions. We will revisit the original sampling criteria and sample size mid-assessment if the team encounters obstacles, such as difficulty in reaching participants, lower response rates, or staff absences from their posts.

Data Quality:
To ensure data quality, we are partnering with well-respected research firms that have the structure capabilities and protocols in place for remote data collection. Since international travel and in-person support from our home office is not possible at this time, we are working closely with partners through frequent planning and oversight meetings. We also are emphasizing the need for thorough yet remote supervision of the fidelity and quality of the data collected through strategies such as:
  • Using automated systems for quantitative data collection to ensure that human error is kept to a minimum.
  • Using a smartphone application to record phone calls as a quality assurance method.
  • Duplicating spot-checking of interviews by making a three-way phone call with a supervisor.
Avoiding questions with long lists of answer choices and instead using a modular questionnaire design, in which a long question is broken into parts and administered in different rounds to a similar or different participant to lower the chance of high non-response rates.

Keep Surveys Short and Simple:
When engaging in virtual interactions with respondents, there is no time for personal rapport building. The virtual space offers little room for building trust and giving purpose and reason to the respondent. Rapport will now only be built with a brief yet well-formulated and structured form. Remember, you are taking up someone’s valuable time. Lengthy surveys and interviews can cause respondents to lose interest and even abandon the survey. Keep surveys brief and use simple language. Be clear in your objective and get to the point quickly.

The ideal survey length should not exceed 15 minutes. This will help maintain smart incidence rates and obtain quality responses. Remember to structure the questionnaire well. Avoid open-ended questions that leave room for obscurity. Ensure that all your questions are close-ended and purpose-driven. Surveys that are concise, brief, and targeted to the correct audience, can garner higher response rates. Additionally, ensure that your survey is relevant and relates to your target groups. This helps optimize data collection and drive higher engagement.

Switch To Online Methods:
Needless to say, digital has taken over and become a fundamental necessity in keeping businesses afloat. This change from physical to virtual has brought with it a host of changes across sectors and industries. For researchers, this primarily means the loss of one of the prime modes of data collection: physical interaction and face-to-face interviews. This, however, does not mean that primary data collection should be completely halted. Rather, researchers should adopt all-online models, such as online surveys and social listening, to obtain the required knowledge and guidance that decision-makers need.

Telephonic interviews are best avoided, as more people now prefer sharing insights through digital methods like online forms, mobile surveys, e-forums, and online focus groups while in a work from home setup. With people slowly adapting to telework, questionnaires and surveys can be filled in their own time.

Working With Evaluation Partners:
We always work in collaboration with a local research team or firm that has demonstrated research strengths, and the pandemic has not changed this. But other considerations for the selection of research partners given the new context include:
  • Approach to collaboration: How do they propose to collaborate with us, given the remote nature of the evaluation management?
  • Data collector training: Will training be done remotely with jsi’s involvement or with native partners and jsi’s assigned consul?
  • Technical oversight: What will regular communication between ourselves and partners look like (what platform and how often)? How often will we have partners share data with us now that we cannot work alongside each other? In what capacity can we be involved in qualitative interviews? How will JSI provide regular feedback to partners after reviewing the data?

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