Best Practices for Designing Asynchronous Online Qualitative

Best Practices for Designing Asynchronous Online Qualitative

Great asynchronous online qualitative isn’t just about having the right technology, people, and support! A lot of what makes an online qualitative project successful is how your study is designed, and how well you can use the technology to get your participants to engage and share richly.

The online qualitative team at 20|20 recently got together to assemble our favorite best practices for asynchronous online qualitative design. These simple steps will be useful for anyone who knows traditional qualitative and wants to bring their skills to the online qual space, or for those who are already doing asynchronous online qualitative but want to up their game.

Always be sure to “set the room”

I remember 20 years ago when I started as a qualitative researcher, if you were lucky, your company signed you up for training courses like the AQRP which held training in the rooms above pubs on most Monday nights somewhere in Central London.

And a big part of that training that helped us figure out how to do great qualitative was about “setting the room” — which actually had little to do with the room, and much more to do with setting the tone for the research, establishing the expectations for participants and drawing more out of them.

We were taught to warm up participants and get them in the right frame of mind to share meaningful reactions. I remember being drilled with “You have brought people into an uncomfortable, unnatural, socially awkward situation and you need them to express themselves freely and openly. And you need some specific tools to get you there.”

The need for “setting the room” doesn’t go away just because you’re doing asynchronous qualitative. It’s actually an equally unnatural feeling for a participant to download an app or log in to your research website and start sharing the experiences of their lives with you. Here are a few things to keep in mind when “setting the room” virtually.

  • Be a participant in an online qualitative session so you can empathize with your respondents. Sneak in, barge in, ask us to include you in one. It’s helpful to experience the participant perspective firsthand before you start designing projects.
  • Send an introductory video introducing yourself to participants to allow them to see that a real person is listening and empathizing with them.
  • Call your participants and help them download/sign on to the app/site at the beginning of the project. With this personal touch, you can engage them in a conversation about what you’re looking for and what their participation means to the project.
  • Affirm participants as soon as they complete an assignment. It makes a world of difference to know the time they spent is valued.
  • Ensure that your project clearly and consistently tells participants what’s going to happen and what’s expected of them. Few things irritate participants more than “adding on a few extra assignments” that will require them to continue participating after the date you told them they’d be finished.
Congratulations, you’re now a User Experience designer (as well as a qual researcher)

Just as your traditional moderating job was part party host, so is your online moderating job part user experience designer!

Participants’ main connection to the study is now through their smartphone or computer. You need to think beyond just asking questions that will inspire people to share what we want them to share (that’s your day job). You also have to consider their experience answering questions on their computer or their smartphone.

With that in mind, our experts suggest the following as you plan your design.

  • Ease participants into the research. You wouldn’t start an interview with “look into the camera over there and tell me the most emotional experience of your life” so don’t do it just because it’s happening over their phone or computer. 
  • Think carefully about how you want participants to respond. If you want to know, ask for audio. If you want to show, ask for a video. If you want a rational response, go with a text-based response. 
  • Read every question out loud to yourself and imagine how it would feel to answer it….then make it better. Choreograph every move you make a participant do (including trying it yourself). 
  • Test your project on the device, every time. There is no better way to experience what your respondents will than by doing it the same way.
  • Always make it incredibly clear to participants what they’re supposed to be doing, and what to expect next. Each assignment should literally end with the instructions for the next. 

Be engaging, friendly and creative

Since you’re not face-to-face, the engagement, friendliness and creativity you bring as a moderator is more important than ever.

The same things that draw out insights and truths in synchronous sessions work in asynchronous, including these key steps.

  • Write in a human, informal, conversational style. Show some personality so respondents are comfortable engaging.
  • Engage people’s emotional side and creativity just as you would in synchronous work. It’s the digital equivalent of putting crayons on the table of your focus group to signal to participants that they’re meant to have a creative experience. 
  • Use logic to pre-program follow-ups so you can be “reactive” and interact with participants in-real time. This will allow you to get additional feedback while their responses are top of mind. 
  • “Easter egg” your project. For example, put in just a few dad humor jokes to give a little levity to your research. It makes the experience more engaging and rewarding for the respondent. 
  • Mix softball questions with harder questions in order to keep participants engaged. 
  • Give participants the opportunity to share more. Sometimes our questions may not result in all the feedback the respondent has to share. By adding in a “Is there anything else that comes to mind?” question, you open up the opportunity for them to give you more insights. 

With the power of asynchronous online qualitative, it’s easy to be with your desired audience at the moments that matter to your research. These best practices can help ensure you design a study that makes the most of the power that digital qual provides, so you can deliver the right insights, every time.