How to Speed Up Qualitative Fieldwork Without Compromising Quality

Laura Butterworth

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    We often come across unexpected issues in the insights industry, especially in the research process things never go quite as smoothly as we might desire. However, if there is one thing we can agree on, it is that quality is something that should never be compromised on, even when we’re working to a tighter than usual schedule. How can we safeguard quality while speeding up qualitative fieldwork?

    Have Quality Control Tools Ready in your Stack

    When time is of the essence, utilise resources in your research technology stack. For example, have a good recruitment or sample provider on tap to help aid you throughout the research process. These providers can not only aid you at the beginning in recruiting good quality respondents to take part, but they can also step in to quickly replace respondents who drop out or do not provide the level of insight that you require. With heaps of experience, recruitment and sample providers bring a welcomed sense of organisation to your fieldwork that otherwise would take up a large chunk of your time.

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    With stakeholders' obsession with speed, insight professionals need to figure out a way to deliver valuable insights without compromising on quality. Thankfully, here are a few techniques to help us get started:

    We could also go one step further with a crafted online community or panel to have potential respondents on tap ready to go at a moment’s notice. This saves time that would otherwise have been wasted on recruiting respondents and setting up a platform to run your research on. With the ability to create multiple project spaces at the click of a button, it also becomes useful for future ad-hoc research projects.

    A carefully crafted continuously used online community or panel creates an instant space to welcome your next research project, whereby you can hold a database of respondents with profiled demographic data to help you to determine who will be suitable for your research project. A quick screener survey can then help you identify who is suitable and available to take part.

    Use Online Research Tools That Allow you to Complete Fieldwork in a Matter of Hours

    When in a rush to get insights as soon as possible, make use of certain online research tools that allow you to run fieldwork in the time you have allotted whether that’s in the space of an hour or multiple days. One great example of this is an online focus group tool. Forget the endless days of fieldwork, welcome the 1-hour turnaround! Focus group tools have the advantage of respondents being able to take part from the comfort of their own home, or even whilst on the go, without needing to travel to the same location to take part.

    Online focus group tools are great for speedy fieldwork, but to generate quality insights it’s important that respondents are as prepared as possible. With the current COVID-19 restrictions leading to increased working from home, running research online rather than face-to-face and generally staying connected via online technology, it’s important that your respondents meet basic technology requirements, otherwise you may face barriers during fieldwork.

    Of course, issues with online technology happen often unexpectedly, but there are things you can do as a researcher to minimise these occurring. And, although it adds to the pre-fieldwork prep time, it’s still really important to check that respondents have all the required technology to participate, such as a compatible device, internet connection, webcam, microphone, and capability. The more prepared you and your respondents are, the smoother it will go. Be on hand to answer any questions, too!

    When using this approach, you’ll still gain the valuable insight by being able to prompt respondents instantly, in the moment. Not only this, but use sub-tools and features within tools and platform you’re operating on to your advantage, such as interactive smartboards, voting on polls, not to mention showing concepts you may be testing to gain respondents’ instant reactions. These are all great to ensure quality, but are also speedy ways to gain instant insights.

    Plan your Fieldwork Carefully

    When planning fieldwork, we often turn to topic guides as a tool to help develop high-quality data; topic guides are a structured approach to make sure all topics are covered and provide a great plan for insight professionals to refer back to.

    However, last minute ad-hoc research requests may leave little time for planning a topic guide. Without the aid of a structured topic-guide, there are other ways to maximise on quality when time is short, and one of the guiding principles is that the questions you ask should be clear and concise. Often when firing a question at respondents, they’ll often focus on one particular part of the question and/or might forget to answer in full.

    Sometimes it’s more efficient to have shorter, more concise questions whilst still allowing additional time for prompting on those missed areas. It’s also beneficial as a moderator to come prepared with a list of areas that you may need to prompt on; to speed up your fieldwork even more try recruiting the best possible moderator(s) to help. This will help you to gauge more detail and insight in a shorter space of time, without missing out on quality.

    With added time pressure, it can be tempting to keep looking at the clock and rush through questions during fieldwork. This can lead to forgetting to actually take a step back and listen to/read what respondents have to say. Try not to ask too many questions at once and take more time to allow respondents to elaborate on their answers as this is what will generate high-quality responses. There should be no compromise when it comes to this stage of fieldwork.

    There is No Compromising on Quality

    On a final note, fieldwork is one of, if not the, key stage of research; many of your efforts lead up to this, not to mention the whole outcome of the research is based upon this. Despite added time constraints that often arise, that doesn’t mean we should compromise on quality in order to meet the deadline. Don’t compromise on communication either; we can speed up fieldwork exponentially by clearly communicating with respondents before, during and after fieldwork.

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    Despite added time constraints that often arise, that doesn't mean we should compromise on quality to meet the deadline, there are ways to speed up research without hindering the quality of data we produce.

    This links back to opting for the research technology stack approach – having good communication tools embedded in your stack to help you communicate with stakeholders, colleagues, and respondents is essential; a good sample provider can aid you in the latter by sending reminder emails or making phone calls to ensure that respondents turn up when required. An on-tap community or panel space to run research also allows you to send out email reminders directly from the community and panel itself, opening up that key communication channel directly with respondents.

    To gain high-quality insights on a tight deadline, here is my recommendation: send a captivating invite email that includes the mention of an incentive for taking part if at all possible. Then, during fieldwork, focus on short but concise key questions and prompts wherever possible from experienced moderators. Make time to listen.

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