04 Sep Episode 20: COVID-19 Research
COVID-19 has been a challenge for everyone – in our businesses and the ways they operate, and in our every day lives. It has also presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for researchers looking to understand how consumers have been coping with the virus and adjusting the ways they live their lives as a result.
In Episode 20 of Stories of Market Research, we’re examining some of the research Insightrix has been working on around COVID-19, and we describe the process and planning that went into it.
First, we speak with Research Director, Lang McGilp, to discuss the large research project we have been working on since late March – our COVID Barometer. This ongoing research project has been looking into the impressions and opinions of the residents of Saskatchewan residents as they pertain to COVID-19. We report the findings of this study every second week to our clients.
Later in the episode, our CRO, Shonna Caldwell, rejoins the podcast to discuss an exciting COVID-19-related virtual ethnography study Insightrix has just recently wrapped up.
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[DUNCAN] COVID-19 has been a challenge for everyone, in their businesses and the way they operate, but also in their everyday lives. But it has also presented once in a lifetime opportunity for researchers looking to understand how consumers have been coping with the virus and adjusting the ways they live their lives as a result. Since late February of this year, every individual person from every walk of life has had to examine the ways they lived their lives and adapt to accommodate new ways of living brought on by COVID-19.
How this has affected their outlook and mental health, their consumption and purchase behaviors, and how they engage with the world around them is still indefinite and up in the air. It’s the work of researchers who are currently looking into these questions that will inform us and future generations about how we responded and adapted to these new ways of communicating, engaging with one another and society as a whole, and doing business.
Hello, I’m Duncan McGregor, the Marketing and Communications Coordinator at Insightrix Research in Saskatoon, Canada, and your podcast host. In this episode of Stories of Market Research, we’ll be looking at some of the research that’s being done around the impact of COVID-19 at Insightrix. We’ll be exploring the large research project that we’ve been working on since the outset of COVID-19 in late March, that we refer to as our COVID barometer.
This ongoing research project has been looking into the impressions and opinions of the residents of our home province, Saskatchewan, as they pertain to COVID-19. We’ll be talking to our research director, Lang McGilp, to get the latest information about the barometer, as well as discussing some of the technical aspects of the research that’s been going into it. In our research, we’ve also been looking into the impact of COVID-19 from a purely qualitative perspective as well to an ethnography study we just wrapped up.
Our CRO, Shonna Caldwell, will appear later on the podcast to discuss the research, as well as the work that went into developing this successful and entirely virtual ethnography project. Have individuals changed their habits since COVID-19? And if so, how? How about the ways they look at the world and the ways they engage with one another? How about consumer behavior, has that changed? How? Big questions, and we’ll be looking into the research behind them on this episode of Stories of Market Research, the Insightrix podcast.
[INTERVIEW SEGMENT #1]
[DUNCAN] First, we’ll be speaking to our research director, Lang McGilp, to hear about the research that went into our COVID barometer. Hi, Lang, welcome back to the podcast.
[LANG] Well, thanks for having me back, Duncan.
[DUNCAN] Wow, it’s going to be great. I’m looking forward to discussing the research that’s going into our COVID tracker with you. I gave a short summary description of the tracker in the opening of the episode. But I’m wondering, can you describe what our COVID tracker is for the audience?
[LANG] Yeah, for sure. Essentially, we do a survey every week with a random selection of Saskatchewan residents to just figure out how they’re feeling with all of what’s been going on with COVID. We started the week of March 17th, and we’ve been going every week up until summer. And then, we went every second week throughout summer here. So it’s been I think about 18 weeks that we’ve been doing this now, 18 specific weeks of tracking data.
[DUNCAN] Why did we take a bi-weekly approach going into the summer?
[LANG] Well, there were a couple of factors for that. One, is we started to see some of the tracking measures that we were recording. It started to flat line and not change too much. I think also this summer, there was less activity going on. So, we wanted to just reduce the frequency a little bit. We may end up bringing it back up to weekly once the school year hits here. We’re just not sure.
[DUNCAN] So, it’s a pretty big project. Can you talk a little bit about the size of this project?
[LANG] For sure. As I mentioned, there’s 400 respondents per week. But when you add that up over the 18 or 19 weeks that we’ve done it, that’s over 7,000 respondents. So, it really is quite a large thing that’s going on. Even just on a weekly basis, there’s a lot of moving pieces that unfold over a very short period of time, from finalizing questions, to getting them programmed and tested in our system, to actually conducting the survey and getting it done in about two days worth of time, looking at what the results are, and then building a highly visual document that’s sent through email each week. So it’s kind of a Monday to Friday whirlwind of activity that takes place.
[DUNCAN] How does a scope like that though compare to some of our other research projects, because that’s pretty big?
[LANG] Well, I think it might be large, but at the same time, we’ve worked ourselves into a rhythm. The first few weeks, there was some ad-hoc meetings that needed to take place to clarify roles and who’s doing what, and by when, and getting a rhythm going. But after that, it seems to go pretty smooth right now. I think the biggest thing is, we do a lot of this kind of work when we launched studies for our clients. But with this one, it goes up the speed of about an omnibus, which we run over the same period of time. We just run that once a month, whereas this one’s once a week. So, it’s really more the volume of work that happens, the type of work we’re very, very familiar with how to do it.
[DUNCAN] So, it’s not so much the research itself; it’s the reporting that’s the bite to take every week?
[LANG] Yeah, I think so. There’s many hands involved. There’s many individuals within our organization that help support to make this happen. It’s truly a team effort. So, it’s just more of coordinating with everybody, and making sure that on a particular day, the key person has time available to devote to this, because we do like to get it out on Friday afternoons by 3:30. So, there’s something in people’s inbox before the weekend hits.
[DUNCAN] The big question, why did we start this? Is it just because right now, it’s a very large research question to be looking into, or were we looking at more of a social responsibility, something to give back to our clients?
[LANG] Well, when we first started, we threw out the idea of, “Geez, this is such an uncharted territory”. I’m sure we all use that word to excess of the end of March. We thought, first of all, boy, it’d be kind of good to know, where are people in Saskatchewan at? How are they feeling? What’s going through their minds? How confident do they feel about things? How concerned are they and whatnot? So, it was really partly initiated through a desire for a curiosity as to what’s happening, but then it was also to help us understand that information and provide context to our clients on their ongoing studies, because we have this pulse check on what’s happening.
From there, it also grew into, well, there’s valuable information here, and we’re in an environment where this could help a lot of different organizations and their people out there. So then we started saying, well, maybe we should start sharing this information more publicly. From there, it just rolled into this thing. I think many great things just start in one spot and then grow into something else. Now, it’s turned into this barometer, this information that many people turn to on a regular basis to just have a good check-in, and it helps them. I’ve heard stories of people passing information on to senior executives or use it to decide, when do we open the church again? It’s just a complete wide range of uses and applications of this information.
[DUNCAN] Yeah, there have been. We even get a little bit of a reach back on my end too hearing about it. So, it’s got a lot of, I guess, legs on it. The sample itself, it’s pretty big. I want to get back to that real quick. How are we recruiting them for this study?
[LANG] Yeah, for sure. So, we have a consumer panel in Saskatchewan called SaskWatch Research. We recruited these people at the very beginning in about 2008 at the end of a telephone survey, which is a common form of research back then, and said, “Hey, do you want to continue to do surveys for us and get paid points for every survey that you do, which you can later on cash out or donate to one of our few charities that we’ve been partnering with?” And from there, we just grew the panel through a few different methods. It’s a very robust, large sample size of people that we were able to tap into. So, that’s the primary source we use for a lot of our clients surveys, and it’s one that we also turn to for this. We’re certainly able to complete 400 respondents with [inaudible 00:08:35] in a very short period of time.
[DUNCAN] And how are you segmenting it? Is it just general population that we’re looking at for this?
[LANG] Yeah, for sure. So, it is a general population survey. We want it to be representative of the broader population. So we do set quotas by age and gender and region. So, it’s not just setting them by those three items. We actually nest or layer in the gender within the age. Because we find that if we don’t, we might find the beginning of the study begins with, say, one gender of an older age group, and then you’re stuck trying to get a younger generation one specific gender. And so, this way, we can make it very precise.
[DUNCAN] Right on. And we calibrate that against the Stat Can survey, right?
[LANG] Yeah, the quotas are matched to exactly what the latest census statistics show for the population distribution for Saskatchewan. So yeah, it exactly matches that population group.
[DUNCAN] Now, moving on to the actual questionnaire design, was there anything in particular that stands out when your team was developing this one that we’re using for the tracker?
[LANG] Well, the first thing we started talking about is mental health. How are people feeling, and how they’re coping with the very unpredictable nature of what was going on? If you think back to March, we all didn’t really know what was happening other than all of the regular things in our lives, where we’re shutting down schools, work, employment, where we work, travel, all that stuff. So, we wanted to begin there and measure, how are you feeling? How stressful is the situation to you? And then also turn a little bit to the future about, what are people’s outlooks?
Do they think things are going to get worse, get better, or stay the same? And so, that was the core area that we’re going from. From there, we also asked a few specific questions that were quite topical in those first couple of weeks. But we found that we started to recycle or rather cycle in and out new questions that were very specific to what’s happening in our province or brought more broadly in the country or the world and to get people’s feedback. So that way, we have a core set of four or five different things we wanted to track, plus we got a pulse on some new immediate things.
[DUNCAN] So, designing a questionnaire well, like you were saying back in March and during the beginning of this stuff, we never knew where this was all going to go, and it was really quite up in the air just where everything was going to be in the world in the next couple of months. Did you find designing a questionnaire like that while it was all going on, did you have a hard time removing yourself out of that?
[LANG] It’s funny you say that because when we first started, we said, “Well, maybe we’ll do this for about, what, three weeks, maybe a month, maybe till the end of April.” Well, here we are at the end of August and we’re still doing this thing. Actually, it’s funny, because the questionnaire design came quite easy, because we’re all completely immersed with what’s going on, lots of information being thrown our way from multiple sources. I think it was quite easy for us to all to have a bit of a pulse on what’s happening right now.
It’s actually been not too difficult to say, well, let’s ask a question about how parents feel sending their kids back to school, or how do you feel about the outbreaks happening in communal living environments in Saskatchewan? Or how would you feel about people, tourists, coming from other provinces to visit friends and family here in Saskatchewan? So, it really just worked out naturally and very organically based on what seemed to be the burning or highlight issue for the week.
[DUNCAN] Yeah, I can see how that would actually be pretty beneficial really, because you’re not really designing the questionnaire, you’re living it. You’re trying to find out what’s really interesting to your average joke Saskatchewanian, for lack of a better word.
[LANG] That’s a good way to put what we’re looking at.
[DUNCAN] So, what was the thinking around having the questionnaire change every time the survey was fielded?
[LANG] I think we wanted to make sure that we are continuing to produce fresh and new topical information to people. So we still have that core questions to track to be able to get a sense of, do people feel things are getting better? Are we getting worse? Are we… That kind of thing. But also, to give some fresh, immediate information that would help everyone with their decision-making regardless of whoever they were that was receiving the information.
[DUNCAN] So, it’s a question, but I’m wondering, are we looking at this study as one single continuous study, or are we reporting the result of a new study, each iteration of the tracker?
[LANG] I think this thing has started and grown into its own healthy animal here. We do trend the results right from the beginning on those core items. So, we do have all that history. I look at this as one continuous survey where we’re putting in some hot topics on a weekly basis to layer in. So, we do provide the nice balance of the trend and stuff with new items.
[DUNCAN] So, we’re not going to report any of the results from the tracker here. But you can tell me generally if anything stuck out to you about the data. Has anything stuck out over the past several months?
[LANG] Yeah. One of the questions… Well, I’ve been trending lots of stuff over the years for a bunch of different clients and applications. The biggest thing I noticed here is, trended data often doesn’t move very much. It does slowly move up or slowly moved down, unless there’s a significant event that cannot be explained. But this is one where the results are very dynamic and things are changing quite a great amount from week to week, particularly with future outlook. In our first week, 62% of people said that the weeks ahead were going to get worse. Four weeks later, only 13% said things were going to get worse and a lot of people thought it was going to get better. So, people felt like we were at the bottom of the trough at that point in time. It remained low. And then in the middle of July, it spiked to 36% as how things are going to be getting worse.
And so, there’s really a lot of dynamic things that have been happening which isn’t atypical for us to see in data. It’s not usually that dramatic of a change. I think there are some other things that are interesting and surprising in terms of comfort level, doing a variety of activities, whether it was going to, say, the gym or getting your hair cut or go to the dentist back in April, May, those numbers were quite low, but we’ve seen them come up quite a bit since then. So, it’s interesting to see that unfold. Or even most recently, we are curious about comfort level of parents sending their children to school, and we have a 50/50 split. Half of parents are like, “Yeah, I’m cool sending my kids into the physical classroom,” and the other half are not. So, that’s given the lower number of cases we have here in Saskatchewan and everything. I think it’s quite interesting to see that that’s the distribution of the responses.
[DUNCAN] So, data that’s that dynamic – do you find it possible to make inferences based on them?
[LANG] Yeah, I think, again because of, it’s such a dynamic thing, a lot of media coverage – a lot of talking … socially and whatnot about what’s unfolding. So generally, the results do provide that. In the case of this one I just mentioned, I think it’s just, there’s been a lot of new announcements and alterations to plans on the back-to-school procedures and such. So, I think that’s caused a number of parents to express some concern about things. And now, it’s like the reality of normal life is starting to hit closer to home for those of us with kids in the K-12 system in particular, that school’s a foundational part of our routine. The house empties. You go to work. You pick them up. You go to your activities and all that sort of thing. So, I think we’ve been putting life on pause and a lot of that routine for some time, and September is going to be that start time of it. Now that we’re facing it in the next week or two, I think we’re seeing that reaction to, Oh, are we ready for this?
[DUNCAN] Sort of a rubber hitting the road kind of moment?
[DUNCAN] So, you’ve been in research for a while now, quite a while. Do any of the many studies you’ve done over your years in research compare to the COVID tracker that we’re doing right now with the dynamic data and the size of it?
[LANG] In terms of the size, this is definitely on the larger scale of some of the work that I’ve been involved in. I think it is fairly high-profile work as well for a prolonged period of time, which is maybe a little bit different or more unique. But there’ve been many studies over the years that are highly important at their moment in time and perhaps shortly thereafter to help guide decision-making. So, I think one of the benefits that we have is we get to be able to work with a whole wide range of things.
This is dealing a lot with some societal or social concerns or issues and things, through to helping companies make decisions on, do I proceed with product A or product B? This is how I price this. How do I increase customer loyalty or satisfaction? So it’s quite a wide range of different things that we get to touch. And so, I think they’re all unique and interesting and exciting, which is probably why I do what I do. But this is a… So, this is up there in terms of one of the memorable ones, for sure.
[DUNCAN] What would you say some of the most interesting parts of doing this research have been?
[LANG] I think really – it’s the feedback that we get from people saying, “Thank you for this information. This is really helpful. This is insightful.” When we first started it, we wanted to take a bit more of a positive spin on it as well, because there was a lot of people sharing information about… Which had more of the harsh realities or the doom and gloom whatnot. And so, we asked the question at the end: What are some positive things that have come out from suddenly having to be stuck at home? And what we saw in those times, people were uploading pictures and videos of really neat stuff.
People were talking about getting more into their family history and looking through old information and such up in the attics, getting more spiritual connection, because they had time to do this. Actually, spending more time with family members far away through digital means, because now, you have an opportunity to let life slow down a bit more to be able to have those conversations and such. And even just a deeper connection within the nuclear family, others in your household, spending time together and building new patterns and traditions and things. So it was neat to go through that and share some of that positive information.
[DUNCAN] I really want to thank you for coming on the podcast. I really learned a lot about our COVID tracker. I’ve been working on the reporting end of it for the, I don’t know, last 18 weeks. So, it’s really cool to actually get into some of the research aspect of it with you.
[LANG] That, well, no problem… Of course, I appreciate all your help as we get those reports out as well, Duncan. So, right on. Thanks so much.
[INTERVIEW SEGMENT #2]
[DUNCAN] Up next, our CRO, Shonna Caldwell rejoins the podcast to talk about an exciting ethnography project that we just wrapped up about COVID-19 in Saskatchewan. Hi, Shonna, welcome back to the podcast.
[SHONNA] Hey Duncan, thanks for having me.
[DUNCAN] So, it’s great having you on. I’m looking forward to talking about the ethnography we’ve just wrapped up about COVID-19. Can you describe the ethnography study for our listeners and what its purpose was?
[SHONNA] For sure. So, I think starting in April of this year, once we – COVID – hit and everyone started working from home, Insightrix has implemented a COVID mental health tracker, which was a weekly tracker that was sent out to our Sasquatch panel. In the first few weeks of that study, we had a question on there asking participants if they’d be interested in participating in a further qualitative approach, digging a little bit deeper about how people were coping to the new normal, which in turn turned to be this ethnography study. So, we conducted this study for about two weeks at the end of May 2020.
It was an online diary study with multiple different activities, about one to two different activities that participants would participate in that could either be through, as I mentioned, a diary in terms of a text mode or uploading videos or uploading pictures to describe what they were doing. And so, I think I might get into a little bit more about what those activities were a little bit later in the interview, but that’s the basis of what it was. It was more of a qualitative approach to how people were coping with the new normal.
[DUNCAN] Right on, and how many participants did we have in it?
[SHONNA] We had 21 participants aged from 18 to 55 plus, varieties of genders, education level, income, as well as kids in the household. So, as I get into a little bit later, but that was a really important piece for us, as well as the education. Just because with everybody now transferring working from home, we really wanted to understand people who were looking at homeschooling as well as post-secondary schools were now transferring online. So, we wanted to make sure that we had a really good broad range of types of types of participants that were included in that 21.
[DUNCAN] How did we recruit them?
[SHONNA] Similar to any kind of online qualitative research. So, as I mentioned, we had about 50 people that we reached out to from about… I think it was around 200 or so that said they’d be interested in participating. So then, we went through, and based off these specs, identified 50 potential participants, called them up asking if they would be interested at the end of May to download an app so called Revelation, sorry, which is the app that we use to do this research. From there, we had them download the app, and upload a personal profile into the app, and offered an incentive. So, because it was a two-week long study with multiple activities on each day, we had a $50 incentive. What we did was say, there was a $40 incentive provided to all participants for downloading the app and agreeing to participate, and then you’d get the extra $10 at the end if you participated in all those activities for the first two weeks.
[DUNCAN] Right on. So, does anything in particular stand out about the recruitment process for this study as opposed to other recruitments or other ethnographies we’ve done?
[SHONNA] Not particularly. I think it’s – with any kind of research where you’re asking participants to go above and beyond the standard maybe online survey, and we’re asking them to either download an app or a specific technology, there’s always those little things that come into play. Similar to when you might do a UX study or, like I said, an ethnography or something that might be more of like a AI kind of thing, there’s a little bit more tech involved, so there’s a little bit more handholding with each participant to make sure that they’re set up properly. They know how it works, how to log in, that kind of thing. So, we’d like to plan for a little bit more time upfront during the recruitment process just to make sure that there’s no bumps in the road along the way.
[DUNCAN] That’s really cool. Maybe could I get you to explain what an ethnography is for listeners who aren’t researchers themselves or don’t have a background in research? Could you explain what an ethnography is?
[SHONNA] Sure, so ethnography is a type of research. As I mentioned, it’s more of a qualitative-based research where we – old ethnography studies way back in the day were observation research. So, you might be sitting behind a glass and watching someone as they’re doing an activity. Well now, in the digital era, we’re now moving online. So this is what this kind of research is. In terms of providing activities or missions, as you’d like to say, to respondents to participate in during a prolonged time, you can watch them as they’re doing it. They can upload different types of responses. So, as I mentioned, we might have… For instance, an activity could be something like… when you get your power bills sent to your house.
If you open that, we’d like you to document in images or in a video the reaction to getting your power bill each month. And so, you can really see from an observation standpoint, facial expressions, other things around – so, you might be able to see into the participant’s home, other things, and what they’re doing. So, for instance, someone might be just getting home from work and open their power bills. Someone might be working from home, and have a scheduled time, or have a section in their house where they have all their bills, so like a little office or something. So you really get to see those different aspects into each participant’s life. So, it’s more of a human behavior element to the research than just doing maybe an online focus group.
[DUNCAN] That sounds like a lot of fun.
[SHONNA] For sure, it is. It really allows for the research to go beyond just the questions I find, which is really exciting about this type of work. So you get those, say in this case, 21 participants, but it’s more so than just an hour and a half of their time like what we might do in a standard focus group or an in-depth interview. We’re really getting to see what their lives are like.
[DUNCAN] So how many researchers did we employ to do the study?
[SHONNA] We had about four researchers involved at different aspects, and that’s in addition to those who helped with recruiting. So, we had probably two major project leads, and then we had someone take on more of that technical role in terms of making sure that all respondents were set up throughout the process. If they had any issues, they knew exactly who to contact in terms of making sure that each activity was working properly. They were able to upload videos if that’s what the activity asked for or images – that kind of thing.
So, we wanted to make sure that one of our researchers was dedicated solely to the tech support side. We found by doing this really helped participants know who to call when. And then, as I mentioned, two project leads and then one person in particular who was involved in designing the types of activities and providing those to the project leads so that they could upload them into the system and manage those as the two-week period went on.
[DUNCAN] Right on. So, going back to data collection, I know you were speaking a bit about online diaries. Could you maybe get into that a little bit?
[SHONNA] Sure. So, I guess in this case, so we did a number of diary activities for those two weeks. In some cases, we had one a day, and other cases, we had two. So, they ranged in variety of topics, things from life with social distancing, travel and transportation, and how respondents were looking at adapting to transportation needs during COVID. Social events, so what they were looking forward to. Again, because we did this at the end of May, I think there was still some anticipation of what summer might look like.
And so, what some of those may be outdoor festivals or things like that, or what they were looking forward to under these new COVID restrictions. One really interesting one that we did here was a food diary. So we had that one open I believe for about four days throughout the activity and asked people what they were eating at home now that they were at home more often. And so, what we found is people really showing their creative side through food. So, a few of our participants were uploading images of creative displays that they would do, getting their kids involved in making food a little bit more, as well as just trying new recipes. And so, some even uploaded videos of them actually experimenting with food at home.
[DUNCAN] That’s so cool, that’s so cool. Did doing this kind of research online make the research easier or harder on the participants, did you find?
[SHONNA] I would say that it probably… I don’t know if it’s easier or harder, but necessarily more convenient maybe. So I think for respondents that are very familiar with Insightrix and the way that they do online surveys, already as being a member of our panel, it was a pretty easy transition for them to now just do a little bit more of a human aspect of things. And so, where we had some difficulties was maybe again when you deal with the technology and some of our older population in terms of how they might upload a video or how they might upload a picture. But having that tech support side from our research staff really helped move that along and handhold and make sure that everyone was comfortable with it. So, I would say it was a very creative and engaging process. All 21 participants were very engaged and proud to say that all 21 participated in all activities for the duration of two weeks.
[DUNCAN] I know ethnographies are usually… Well, they are a lot of work. Let’s just be honest. How did that translate to doing it online for the researchers? What was the research process itself?
[SHONNA] The research process, I would say, there’s a lot of setup with this kind of a study. And so, because this one was again two weeks, and we had multiple activities on each day, there was some setup required by the project leads in order to make sure that the activities were set and preset in the calendar. So, the way that it would work is we would develop it on a discussion guide ahead of time, and then you’d have to go in and upload it into the system, so into this Revelation system, so that each participant would get a notification sent right to them either through the app or on their computer through email when a new activity was posted.
And so, there’s a lot of project management involved. But once the activities were set, it was fairly easy for the researchers. I would say majority of us that worked on this study found that part to be the most fun, because that’s where you can really connect with each individual respondent based off of what they’re uploading, asking follow-up questions. I think also because of the timing of this study, we really got to know our participants on a more personal level with everyone dealing with the new normal, as well as our researchers also being put in those new situations. So I think it added a really empathetic piece to the research.
[DUNCAN] Does doing ethnographies online – do you find that it affects the research outcomes in any way?
[SHONNA] I would say that… Right now, I wouldn’t say that it impacts them. I’d say if anything, it’s a more positive thing to do, because you can do a little bit more. Respondents are doing it from their homes, as well as what is really cool about this Revelation app where Insightrix uses to do ethnography is that it can be done without wifi. So if there was an activity that required someone as they were out and about to do something, they could easily take a picture and upload it to the system that way as well. So you can do it offline. So, I think it’s very accommodating. If anything, I think it just makes it a little bit more smoother of a process. Respondents don’t have to be somewhere at a certain time to participate. If they’re available for the duration of the study, they can do the activities whenever.
[DUNCAN] Yeah, that’s really great, because whenever you’re doing this kind of research and there’s things going on in the world, you’re going to have to be able to do the research in a way that facilitates it for participants and not really makes it easier for you. So having access to an online platform like that, it’s got to be really awesome. So without discussing the research outcomes too much, since we’re going to be sharing the results soon, was there anything that stuck out to you about this ethnography compared to others you’ve done in the past?
[SHONNA I would say the types of activities. So I think because that’s, as you mentioned, the research outcomes. But because it was very adjusting to the new normal and COVID and the restrictions that everyone was experiencing, we tried to make these activities as broad as possible. So what were the big things that we thought the general population might be dealing with and leaving it open? So I would say, if a client came to us in the future and wanted to do an ethnography study, it might not be so broad.
But in this case, that was our outcome for doing this, was we wanted to know how each one of these 21 participants were adjusting to things like media consumption, and were they on their phones more? And to just ask these open-ended questions that would allow them to provide any results. So we weren’t trying to lead them in any way, or we weren’t trying to get a response. We just wanted to leave it open and just see how people were adjusting.
[DUNCAN] So, doing qual research like this, especially ethnographic research like you were saying, it’s pretty rewarding in that you get to connect with your participants to some degree. And there’s a – I don’t want to say humanity to it – but there’s an engagement that goes on between the researcher and the participant. Beyond that, did you find anything especially rewarding or interesting about doing ethnographic research in general?
[SHONNA] I would say it’s probably the same as any kind of qualitative, so the empathy, getting to know your respondents, being able to engage with them through images and videos, which was really cool. We had one of our participants, actually, when we talked about new things that they might be learning during COVID, upload a video of her singing. So, it was a talent and something that she really was wanting to do more. Now that she was at home, she had a bit more time. So, she actually uploaded one of her songs.
And so, you really get to connect on a personal level, as well, that allows the respondents to connect with each other. So, you can set restrictions within the activity. If you wanted to make it public or if you wanted to make it just within the research staff to have access. So in some of these cases, we had it open where other respondents could see the videos and images and start talking to each other. And so, that creates a whole other element of rather than just… From the professional standpoint, you get to see the participants interact with each other online.
[DUNCAN] I was going to ask you about that. Having participants interacting with each other online, did that lead to any greater amount of engagement, or did it facilitate it in any way?
[SHONNA] For sure, yeah. I think because it’s almost like a self facilitating in some way. So, as I mentioned, the researchers post the activities, and we monitor, and we try and engage, but we’re working with a set of objectives as the research is going through, but participants are not. So they’re asking questions that maybe we’re not thinking of, or shouting out to other participants like, “Oh, that’s really great.” Or, “I love your voice,” and things like that. So it creates this sense of a community for those two weeks within participants, which I think only allows them to be more excited for when the next activity might be there. So it does increase engagement that way.
[DUNCAN] That’s really cool. I’ve had a really good time just sitting here listening about this ethnography, and I’m looking forward to checking out the results of it here in the next little while, which we’re going to be making public in the next little while. So keep an eye out for that. But until that happens, I really want to thank you for coming on the podcast and explaining the research that we’ve been doing in regard to this stuff.
[SHONNA] Mm-hmm (affirmative), no problem. Thanks for having me. Yeah, I’m excited to share the results and how Saskatchewan residents were coping back in May. Who knows, maybe we’ll do a phase two of this study as things start progressing, which would be really cool.
[DUNCAN] Yeah, things sure have changed a lot over the last few months, so it’d be really interesting to check that out.
[SHONNA] For sure.
[DUNCAN] Awesome, thanks a lot.
[DUNCAN] And there you have it. I would like to thank both Shonna Caldwell and Lang McGilp for returning to the podcast to explain the details around the research that we’ve been doing around COVID-19. We’ll be releasing the findings from our COVID-19 related research, both the barometer and the ethnography that were featured on this episode very soon.
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