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Emerging survey research trends in the times of COVID-19

research The current pandemic has not only disrupted routine lives across the globe but has also disarrayed operations for industries across sectors. As economies grapple with repercussions from sudden shifts in workspaces, technology, and unprecedented job cuts; each industry is now assessing the ‘new normal’ and how best to tackle these developments.

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In market research, primary surveys to collect quality first-hand data are now being conducted via virtual platforms. This, in turn, is creating a host of new dependencies like device availability and internet accessibility. With face-to-face interviews out of the equation, research companies and industry analysts are evaluating alternatives that are here to stay. With the research community aiming to evolve and adapt to these times, here are some key emerging trends in survey research.

Digital meeting space

As the ‘Great Lockdown’ continues, workspaces become remote, mobile, and digital. What has now emerged as the ‘digital meeting space’ comes with its own set of pros and cons. For field researchers, this implies working outside the traditional primary methodologies of face-to-face interviews. The new digital mode resides in an individual’s personal space, thereby providing the comfort of familiar surroundings while nullifying commute time and proving undoubtedly more cost-effective. However, this sees a heavy dependence on good internet bandwidth that might result in several respondents dropping out. This could affect the quality and effectiveness of the data collected.

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Cost-effective solutions

Given the pandemic, digital operations undoubtedly prove to be more cost-optimized than traditional setups. As CATI (Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing) operations are decentralized and involve manual data entries, the RDD (Random Digit Dialling) should be re-weighted and reduced to smaller sample sets to avoid the potential data loss, additional costs, and the possibility of rendering the survey futile.

With mobile phones seeing maximum reach, a well-crafted and thought out IVR (Interactive Voice Responses), and tailored SMS surveys present a smart alternative. To generate quality responses, researchers will do well if they pay close attention to the wording, simplicity of language, and ensure socioeconomic inclusivity, especially in developing countries within Asia and Africa.

The purpose and relevance of interviews

In these trying times, researchers will need to re-evaluate the necessity and relevance of their survey’s subject matter. With social distancing the new norm, ESOMAR in its statement, advises surveys to be restricted to essential and relevant topics. This does not mean that researchers should stop their fieldwork entirely, rather it highlights the need to augment surveys to be more time-sensitive and topical. Surveys that employ shorter questionnaires spanning 15 minutes and similar time-bound interviews will see better responses.

Response rate

This is one of the top concerns on the minds of most researchers. With greater awareness about the current crisis and its impact, findings show that questionnaires centered on the pandemic evoke greater responses as opposed to routine subjects. Even though mobiles-users form a majority of the global population, the survey’s reach is restricted to demographics with Internet accessibility and a social media presence. Moreover, several factors such as usage frequency, answering probability, and the respondent’s literacy level remain uncertain.

Surveys are most effective when questions are short, simple, and relevant to the respondent and the topic being assessed. With the lockdown bestowing more free time to respondents, well-designed surveys that are targeted to the right audience posing the right kind of questions, help achieve higher response rates.

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Maintaining research quality

Retaining the pre-pandemic standards of research quality enabled by face-to-face interviews seems challenging. To bridge this gap, a mixed-mode of research combining both qualitative and quantitative approaches is gaining momentum. Despite delivery and quality uncertainties, the research community can stay relevant by constantly evaluating the feasibility of different survey modes and emerging market developments.

The post-pandemic world is sure to see global companies across sectors armed with renewed survey approaches and innovative ways of conducting research. However, setting right the data course of the current pandemic from turning into an ‘infodemic’ is a pressing concern most global communities are currently battling.

Finally, as the current crisis raises physical barriers, virtual barriers are only breaking down further. As survey research transforms with digital as a leading enabler, the future will belong to those who can discern its use and exploit its benefits. With concerns for cost-effectiveness, response quality, and effectiveness of surveys, researchers and organizations will be well served to evaluate the current trends and emerging technologies that mitigate these challenges.