Qualitative research in the 2020 virtual world

At the Social Research Centre, our specialist Qualitative Research Unit has always strived to deliver high quality, timely, rigorous and policy-relevant qualitative research and evaluation.

We have responded to the restrictions presented during the COVID-19 pandemic by refining and developing our online qualitative methods to ensure that clients can remain confident in our ability to continue to deliver insightful and relevant qualitative research, and for the experience to be both positive and inclusive for participants. We are pleased to continue to be able to offer, through our highly skilled in-house qualitative researchers:

  • Online ‘virtual’ focus groups – typically 6 participants with a moderator, with whiteboard access and other visual engagement tools
  • Online in-depth interviews (individual, moderated via video-conference, with screenshare functionality)
  • Online discussion boards – closed group discussions running over a period of days or weeks, using chat and visual prompts

Case study – HumanKind: kindness and its contribution to our meaning in life in 2020

While a wealth of survey data has been collected throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, little qualitative research has been publicly available on people’s experiences. In July, our team ran a series of virtual focus groups with members of the public to explore the meaning in life, and random acts of kindness during the pandemic (see below for an example of one of our groups, moderated by Stevie in the top left hand corner).

picture of focus group participants

Consent from all participants was obtained to use this screenshot.

The findings of this study, entitled ‘Humankind - kindness and its contribution to our meaning in life’ will be presented in a series of articles which will discuss key themes related to people’s experiences and understanding of kindness during the pandemic including aspects identified below.

flow chart of kindness aspects

Overall, participants have been open and responsive to the online approach, with the quality of discussions at a similar level to that of a focus group in person.

Participants of all ages and abilities have adapted well to using platforms such as Zoom, and the feedback from them has been overwhelmingly positive, finding it easy to join in, and valuing being able to chat ‘virtually’ with others in the group.

A well run group allowing all participants to have their say and express their views. The use of the white board was well explained and easy to use. There were no technical issues and people are using Zoom more frequently and it is becoming second nature.

Like face-to-face groups, online focus groups can also include creative tools and techniques – in these groups we also used a virtual online whiteboard with participants called Mural, which allows people to create virtual ‘post-it notes whilst in the group – the example below is ideas on ‘meaning in life’ from one of the groups of research participants.

Using a ‘virtual whiteboard’ with participants to capture ideas
picture of sample Mural board by participants

Further detail about our approach and learnings when conducting online qualitative research will be available shortly. If you would like to hear more about this project, or discuss how we can help you with online qualitative research please email us (qualitative@srcentre.com.au) or call the Qualitative Research Unit on 03 9236 8500.

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