What should we keep in mind while conducting research during a pandemic?

Good researchers, qual and quant, are empathetic. They empathize with research participants, they empathize with businesses trying to solve specific problems. Now, more than ever, that empathy must be nurtured. Some potential participants are moving kids home from college on no notice, some are trying to care for parents skeptical of the crisis, some have already lost jobs, and some are already grieving loved ones lost to the disease.

Clients and suppliers are in the midst of dramatic business changes, leading to sharp revenue declines and layoffs.

Precisely because of this turmoil research is necessary, to help organizations understand this moment and react appropriately. Some are trying to determine how to regenerate flagging demand, some need to convey outages and service changes, while others need to choose a better way to test messages about closures and layoffs.

For even more on the role of empathy in research, see Andrew Grenville’s post, “In a time of upheaval, does research still work?

Online surveys proceed apace, with no sign of a decline in response rates – in fact, some suppliers are reporting higher response rates, especially among traditionally hard-to-reach audiences like 13- to 22-year olds. Pew Research has already conducted rigorous research into initial views in the U.S., where economic concerns predominate: U.S. Public Sees Multiple Threats From the Coronavirus – and Concerns Are Growing.

We do so much direct questioning that we often ignore the issues with this method. Of course, a common problem is that we humans don’t know ourselves as well as we think, and we often rationalize what we already decided intuitively. One researcher told me that a tracker they ran suddenly showed a dramatic increase in people saying they fly less than once a year: participants are projecting current fears around air travel onto their recollections of their past. Another referenced a study asking people to imagine a hypothetical situation around when the crisis is past: answers to that should be viewed highly skeptically.

Industry Resources

Face-to-face qualitative research has always been vital, but for now, it is potentially hazardous. If you haven’t performed online qual before, you may need to. The Insights Association, adapting quickly to the needs of its members, has already scheduled a webinar on the topic, Migrating Qualitative Projects Online (I’ll be moderating). Melanie Courtright, CEO of Insights Association, shares these thoughts: Continuous Learning Is Essential – Why Market Research Must Press on During the COVID-19 Pandemic.

To support its members, ESOMAR is encouraging discussions of concerns in the ESOMAR LinkedIn Group.

As for the MRII, we’re accelerating some plans on how we can help the broader industry. More to come on this in a few weeks.

Sadly, many of us will have more time on our hands than we like. Once the necessities are taken care of, perhaps that will give us a chance to begin to think less tactically and more strategically about a changing world. Politico already has a collection of essays on how the world might be different: Coronavirus Will Change the World Permanently. Here’s How.

COVID-19 Updates

Finally, here are some useful dashboards for tracking the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Stay safe.

Author Notes:

Jeffrey Henning

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Jeffrey Henning, IPC is a professionally certified researcher and has personally conducted over 1,400 survey research projects. Jeffrey is a member of the Insights Association and the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers. In 2012, he was the inaugural winner of the MRA’s Impact award, which “recognizes an industry professional, team or organization that has demonstrated tremendous vision, leadership, and innovation, within the past year, that has led to advances in the marketing research profession.” In 2022, the Insights Association named him an IPC Laureate. Before founding Researchscape in 2012, Jeffrey co-founded Perseus Development Corporation in 1993, which introduced the first web-survey software, and Vovici in 2006, which pioneered the enterprise-feedback management category. A 35-year veteran of the research industry, he began his career as an industry analyst for an Inc. 500 research firm.