Tools and Equipment
There has been a rapid increase in options for software, tools and equipment that can facilitate remote research in lieu of face-to-face contact.
Interviews, workshops and focus groups can be conducted via telephone, email, or a number of online video call programmes including Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet. It sit helpful to discuss with participants which software they are most comfortable using, and participants should be given guidance on how to use any software they are not familiar with, and how to minimise technical issues should any arise. It is generally useful for researchers to have experimented with the software themselves, too, so they are confident about using its features and solving any technical problems for participants.
There are pros and cons to different programmes and apps:
- Anyone with an email can be added to a Microsoft Teams group where research files can be shared and meetings can be organised from participants’ and researchers’ calendars.
- All documents are stored in SharePoint which every team member has access to. Permissions and security options can be customised for sensitive information
- Teams syncs which other Office apps including OneNote, OneDrive, and SharePoint which improves collaboration and communication.
- Calls and meetings are end-to-end encrypted and data exchanged is secure.
- Only people with the link to the meeting/invitees can join the meeting.
- Anonymity is an issue with Teams because screen names appear as that linked to your email and this cannot be manually changed.
- Easy to set up, use and manage, can be synced to Google Calendar.
- Custom registration URL for inviting attendees with meeting ID and password goes some way to preventing “Zoom-bombing”, and people entering the online meeting who are not part of your research group/project.
- Participants can manually change their screen name to protect anonymity (and can do this before they log in to join the meeting).
- You can use end-to-end eruption to secure your communication.
- Hosts can lock a meeting once all participants are present to prevent anyone else joining
- Risk of ‘Zoom-bombing’ in which uninvited and unwanted individuals can crash a conference call. Hackers have found a way to obtain meeting passwords which raises concerns for participants’ anonymity and right to privacy.
- Easy to install and one of the most established video calling programmes.
- Skype requires an internet connection or mobile data. All voice, video, file transfers and instant messages are encrypted.
- Users often experience more technical issues with Skype than other video call programmes.Screennames cannot be manually changed.
- A Google account is needed to join meetings, reducing the possibility of unidentified participants.
- All transmitted data in Google Meet is encrypted.
- In Meet’s free platform, users can’t record video meetings, this requires a business plan where meetings can be recorded and saved to the Google Drive.
Instant messaging features on these programmes can be helpful for participant communication outside of workshops and interviews. Additionally, WhatsApp is easy to use and messages are encrypted for secure communication. It also offers video calling and file sharing options. WhatsApp groups can be useful for sustaining communication among participants and creating a supportive network.
When conducting research remotely with participants, considerations for the equipment they will need and be able to access is important. For online workshops and interviews, participants will need (at least) access to a smartphone on which required apps can be pre-installed (or instructions on how to install apps and software). Alongside data bundles, phones themselves may need to be budgeted into your grant’s costings to facilitate participation.