Conducting qualitative research by way of a mobile device presents the researcher with unique challenges in terms of how to design a mobile study that results in valid outcomes. There are, however, a number of quality measures that researchers can build into their qualitative mobile studies that will serve to elevate their research designs and bring added confidence to the final results. The following are just a few quality considerations that qualitative researchers should think about and incorporate throughout the mobile research process. This list simply highlights a few design aspects related to mobile research and in no way supersedes the additional quality features (discussed throughout this blog) that should be part of any qualitative research design.
These design aspects are discussed from the perspective of the Total Quality Framework* which is comprised of four components – Credibility, Analyzability, Transparency, and Usefulness. In essence, the framework is based on the idea that all qualitative research must be credible, analyzable, transparent, and useful. The first three components respectively pertain to the data collection, analysis, and reporting phases of the research.
An important factor in the data collection phase has to do with gaining cooperation from study participants. The greater the cooperation, the more inclusive the research will be of the target population. Although all research should address ways to boost rates of cooperation, qualitative mobile research designs should pay special attention to:
- Location – This refers to the extent to which the researcher can be flexible in the exact location from which the participant provides feedback, e.g., does the participant need to shop at a particular store location or is any location in the retailer chain permissible (while still meeting the study’s overall objectives)? Greater flexibility in where the participant needs to be to complete the research will obviously encourage greater participant cooperation.
- Incentives – Given the more participatory role participants play in mobile research compared to more traditional modes, mobile participants may need a higher level of cash and/or non-cash rewards for their cooperation. These incentives need to be clearly communicated to participants during recruitment, including an explanation of the process for distributing incentives at the completion of the study.
- Gatekeepers – Qualitative mobile research has the potential of being particularly valuable when conducting studies with hard-to-reach or vulnerable segments of the population (e.g., teenage mothers); however, gaining access (and cooperation) can be a challenge. In these cases, the researcher needs to build into the design an efficient means for establishing relationships with informants (e.g., community leaders) and/or gatekeepers who can facilitate the process.
- Rapport – Building rapport with qualitative mobile research participants is important to gaining and maintaining their cooperation. The rapport-building process should begin with recruitment, followed by frequent communication prior to the onset of fieldwork (e.g., to clearly set participants’ expectations), followed by appropriate contact during the field period, and ending with a thorough debrief interview/conversation with the participant at the conclusion.
The analysis phase of qualitative research design consists of two broad areas: data processing and data verification. The qualitative mobile researcher needs to think about:
- Data processing – A critical step in data analysis is the transformation of participants’ input into a form that can be coded, evaluated for themes/patterns, and interpreted. In mobile research, this may take the form of transcribing text/email messages as well as the audio files of recorded phone interviews. The researcher must also take the added steps of (1) associating this transcribed data with the images and/or videos that accompanied the participant’s input, and then (2) developing a system that organizes all these data units for any one participant with that obtained by all the other participants. Needless to say, this can be a necessary but daunting task.
- Data verification – With the various types of data the researcher may receive from a qualitative mobile study, it becomes particularly important to build verification strategies into the design. Conducting peer reviews or inter-researcher checks as well as scrutinizing outliers (e.g., participant feedback that contradicts a prevailing observation) is especially important to producing valid interpretations of such varying types of data that may be produced from qualitative mobile research.
The reporting function in qualitative — esp., marketing — research has increasingly devolved over the years to the point where even fragmented thoughts separated by bullets on a PowerPoint slide are being abandoned for mostly image-only reporting formats. But, as argued in an earlier post, complete transparency in the form of reporting research design is essential because it allows the user of the research to judge the quality of the research conducted as well as enable “the reader of your research the opportunity to apply the research design used in one context to another analogous context.” The need to provide a “thick” (i.e., complete, full) description of the research design in the final document is critical in mobile studies where a host of variables may have impacted the final outcomes. So, for instance, the report should include not only the dates on which the fieldwork was conducted but also the particular days and the time of day when each participant provided feedback. This may seem tedious but could be important if, for example, some participants completed their shopping assignments during a busy holiday period – when store traffic and sales assistance altered the shopping experience – and others did not.
*A complete discussion of the Total Quality Framework is presented in the forthcoming book from Guilford Press, Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015).
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