Considerations with mobile qualitative research

Mobile “in-the-moment” research seems to be very much “of the moment”. Why is this?

Well, a key attraction is that it can help overcome one of the main problems of research, which is that of asking people to remember how they felt or behaved at some point in the past. In other words, it helps overcome recall problems.

Of course, the recall problem does not affect all research subjects. If you show some stimulus in a group, for example, then you are not asking people to remember something from the past. And if you are asking them about something major, or ongoing, in their life then the recall problem may well be insignificant.

And, it is also worth bearing in mind that, nowadays, the alternative to “in the moment” research is not “several weeks or months later” research. Participants can be out and about during the day and rather than taking part in research there and then they can do so when they get home, just a few hours later.

But, leaving these arguments aside, perhaps another benefit is that it is more convenient for participants to take part in research in the moment? It means they can be taking part in your research whilst they are out and about, with a spare few moments to fill. Well, that may be so, although one could equally argue the opposite.

That’s because it is not easy to write long notes or answers on a mobile phone. This is, of course, why “text-speak” has emerged… abbreviations of commonly used words or phrases to save time when writing text messages. And then there is predictive text, again designed to make the process of entering lots of text less time-consuming. So, one might say that if a research project is intended for participants to give detailed and in-depth responses, then a mobile platform is less likely to encourage this than other platforms.

Another reason why participants might well give less detailed responses on a mobile when they are out and about is that they may be in the middle of doing other activities. That’s why they are out and about, after all. So they are less likely to focus solely on the research and give it the attention the researcher is hoping for.

So what does all this mean? Well, the immediacy of mobile research can undoubtedly be useful for some research purposes. But for qualitative research you might offer participants the choice of taking part on a mobile, though without requiring them to do so.

If timeliness of responses is important to you, because you are concerned about recall, then you could require participants to answer your questions or make posts with a certain frequency. Or you could ask them to take photos or make brief notes whilst out and about, which they then upload to the research site, and expand upon, when they are back at home. Of course, you might want them to do this anyway, if you are seeking to gain considered, retrospective insight on a subject.