With so many people working from home and using their communication devices to do many of the tasks we once did in other ways or are now doing much more often or differently it’s tempting to think: it’s a perfect time to reach people for my research project.
That might be true, but it’s also fraught with problems. Before you set out on your ethnographic journey through the lives of your stakeholders or prep Surveymonkey for its journey through the jungles of the Internet we suggest you take a pause and consider the following before venturing forward.
- Context counts. Every time we engage in social research we must account for context. In the current situation with a global pandemic, we don’t know what the context is. The epidemiological, social policy, economic, and communications landscape is changing day-to-day and is influenced on a global level. With so many areas changing at once, the ability to gauge or even state the context becomes nearly impossible without resorting to over-generalized or vague statements like “complex” or “uncertain”.
- ” Seeing is not the same as looking”. Physician and economist Anupam Jena provides a great example of how we can miss the forest for the trees without examining some of the things that are hidden in plain sight. In times of profound transformation, we might need to re-think what it is we see as that will shape what questions we ask, what data we gather, and what answers we discover.
- User-experience. What is the state of mind of those who are answering your survey or responding to your interview? You might be speaking to someone who hasn’t left their house in three weeks. They might have people nearby all the time. This will determine the willingness or ability to respond, the kind of answers that are provided, and the openness of the response (for example, people might not want to share highly personal data on a shared computer or where people might see them entering or speaking about it).
- Sensemaking. When we don’t understand the context or its entirely new we look for what we know. The challenge right now is that we don’t know what it is that we’re looking at. Unless our research or evaluation work is focused on the now and understanding how and what we are doing at this moment, about this moment, and for this moment we risk developing data that is examined through the lens of history (what we’ve done before), which will be another context altogether. We’ll be making sense of the past through the lens of today.
- Attention. Are we paying attention? When so much of what we are exposed to now is coming through screens — big and small — there is a likelihood that we are reading things quickly. Electronic reading is not the same as reading paper-based text and tends to encourage skimming. When what we have read is — save for the back of the cereal box at breakfast — almost entirely digital (for many of us) the likelihood of instructions being skimmed might be higher. Proceed with caution.
- Health. Lastly, how well are we? When the effects of being inside, isolated, and perhaps exposed to a virus are real, present and pervasive, your audience might not be in the state where the depth and quality of thought are what we need to get the responses we want. Many of us are not our usual selves these days and our responses will reflect that.
See differently, think differently and that goes for how we assess and do our social research.