Qualitative E-Research As A Path Forward

Authors: Mr. Rubén Antonio Sánchez Hernández
Dr Priya Goel, Assistant Professor, The University of Hong Kong
Mr. Lihuan Chen
Mr. Ka Lun Lee

The global COVID-19 crisis has driven researchers to consider new ways to make use of digital technologies for qualitative research, which  has opened up new possibilities in the field (Kobakhidze et al., 2021; Podjeb, 2021). Recently, scholars have raised  the potential of qualitative e-research and use of digital communication technologies as a path forward in an increasingly multilingual, multicultural yet distant research environment (Lee et al., 2017; Salmons, 2016). Scholars have also offered crucial guidelines for consideration as we adapt to new research conditions.

Preparation for Qualitative E-Research

Online research demands more scrutiny on researcher-participant relationships, ethical issues, and participation engagement (Shamsuddin et al., 2021). Virtual qualitative research necessitates particular attention to pre-data collection tasks. Understanding local contexts, recruitment, scheduling, and facilitator preparation need to be contextualized and adapted to  a virtual approach (Pinto da Costa, 2022). Suitability and guidelines around meeting platforms, background noise, privacy, and technology troubleshooting are pivotal to preparation for data collection.

Researchers must prepare for  challenges such as unexpected disruptions, poor Internet connection, and background noise (Oliffe et al., 2021) during virtual interviews. In the case of virtual focus groups, scholars suggest group size be reduced, facilitators share cultural and/or linguistic traditions with participants, and multiple facilitators be available to troubleshoot technology challenges (Pinto da Costa, 2021; Eigege et al., 2021). Researchers should also prepare to attend to participants who interrupt others during an online interview, resulting in incomplete quotes and challenging  dynamics (Kobakhidze et al., 2021) Online interviews require close attention to rapport building and strategies to guarantee effective participation.

Ethical issues such as sampling bias and confidentiality need to be properly handled. Sensitivity is advised during recruitment to address internet accessibility. Audio- and/or video-recording must only be conducted with participant consent; and privacy protection should ensure physical space and individuality to maintain case-by-case confidentiality. In terms of data security and privacy, recorded files and transcripts stored on cloud drives should be accessible only to researchers (Kobakhidze et al., 2021).

Qualitative E-Research As Part of Our New and Better Normal

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed scholars in an already increasingly complex research environment to reimagine how we design research in ways that support the needs of researchers and  participants (Kobakhidze et al., 2021). During this time, some of the main affordances of qualitative research have become more evident  in terms of participant recruitment, cost, travel, and time (Eigege et al, 2021; Podjed, 2021). The creation of safe spaces for participants, and the possibility to connect and access more diverse participant populations also pose exciting possibilities in the future of qualitative e-research (Oliffe et al., 2021; Pinto da Costa, 2022). Indeed, scholars must continue to consider longstanding issues such as digital access, literacy, and ethics for qualitative e-research to further progress.

Our new normal and other problems such as ongoing political upheavals and natural disasters will continue to demand innovation around qualitative research  (Podjed, 2021). The adaptation of qualitative research and the affordances of its digital conduction will depend on the creativity and flexibility from researchers. Coupled with technological innovation, our creativity can  continue to push forward ways to conduct research in a more interconnected and fast changing world.


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