The Relative Value of Modes

The cadre of modes available to researchers as they design their studies has grown hugely over the past decade. When researchers once had few choices – relying on face-to-face, landline phone, and mail – they now need to think carefully as they sift through an increasing number of options. In addition to the old standbys, other viable, and often preferable, modes must be considered, including mobile phone, online (without webcam use), and online (with webcam use).

Relative value of modes

  • Natural” characteristics, i.e., its ability to foster a natural, social conversation environment.
  • The ability to share content, e.g., photos, video, documents.
  • Rapport building, i.e., its ability to foster researcher-participant rapport.
  • The ability to identify cues – verbal and non-verbal – that provide insights beyond direct responses.
  • Coverage, i.e., the breadth and depth of geography and the population segment the mode can reach.
  • Cost, i.e., the total cost of the study attributable to the mode.

There are, of course, other considerations – such as, convenience, depth of response, and so on – but the six listed are certainly important.

Using these considerations, it can be helpful to visualize the relative value of the five modes mentioned – face-to-face, phone (landline), mobile, online (without webcam), and online (with webcam). Although the relative value may vary from study to study, there is a general nature associated with each mode that can reveal its relative worth.

The image shown provides a loose idea of where each mode falls in relationship to others across the six considerations outlined above. The face-to-face mode, for instance, is a relatively great choice when it comes to fostering a natural environment where the researcher can build rapport, pick up on verbal/non-verbal cues, and enable the participant to share; but not a great option considering the (sometimes) limited ability to actually reach the target participant and to do so in a cost effective manner. In fact, all of the other modes outperform face-to-face methods in terms of coverage and cost. Overall, the online (with webcam) mode does a relatively good job across all considerations.

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