Selfie consents, remote rapport, and Zoom debriefings: collecting qualitative data amid a pandemic in four resource-constrained settings

Selfie consents, remote rapport, and Zoom debriefings: collecting qualitative data amid a pandemic in four resource-constrained settings
Mark Donald C Reñosa, Chanda Mwamba, Ankita Meghani, Nora S West, Shreya Hariyani, William Ddaaki, Anjali Sharma, Laura K Beres
BMJ Global Health, 8 January 2021; 6(1)
Open Access
In-person interactions have traditionally been the gold standard for qualitative data collection. The COVID-19 pandemic required researchers to consider if remote data collection can meet research objectives, while retaining the same level of data quality and participant protections. We use four case studies from the Philippines, Zambia, India and Uganda to assess the challenges and opportunities of remote data collection during COVID-19. We present lessons learned that may inform practice in similar settings, as well as reflections for the field of qualitative inquiry in the post-COVID-19 era. Key challenges and strategies to overcome them included the need for adapted researcher training in the use of technologies and consent procedures, preparation for abbreviated interviews due to connectivity concerns, and the adoption of regular researcher debriefings. Participant outreach to allay suspicions ranged from communicating study information through multiple channels to highlighting associations with local institutions to boost credibility. Interviews were largely successful, and contained a meaningful level of depth, nuance and conviction that allowed teams to meet study objectives. Rapport still benefitted from conventional interviewer skills, including attentiveness and fluency with interview guides. While differently abled populations may encounter different barriers, the included case studies, which varied in geography and aims, all experienced more rapid recruitment and robust enrollment. Reduced in-person travel lowered interview costs and increased participation among groups who may not have otherwise attended. In our view, remote data collection is not a replacement for in-person endeavours, but a highly beneficial complement. It may increase accessibility and equity in participant contributions and lower costs, while maintaining rich data collection in multiple study target populations and settings.

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