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Conducting qualitative research in times of uncertainties: Methodological and ethical considerations

June 28, 2021 15:00
June 28, 2021 16:30

Livia Tomás and Ophélie Bidet; University of Neuchâtel, Institute of Sociology


Dr.Claudia Globisch¹; Dr.Markus Gottwald¹; Dr.Andreas Hirseland¹; Daniel Kühn²

¹Institute of Employment Research, Nuremberg; ²University of Ausburg

Livia Tomas, University of Neuchâtel; Ophélie Bidet, University of Neuchâtel

The health pandemic that erupted in 2020 has had a major impact on our research and particularly on the methods at our disposal for the collection of qualitative data. Qualitative research has been strongly affected from limited access to participants, restricted mobility and the uncertainty regarding the duration of the health crisis and the respective constraints. These circumstances provoked researchers to develop original strategies in order to advance ones’ own research under the new conditions. Online interviews – whether conducted synchronously through VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technologies such as Skype, Zoom, FaceTime and WhatsApp or asynchronously through e.g. online chats – have played a major role by providing an alternative ways to gain access to participants.

Although the set of literature on online interviews is increasing (Deakin and Wakefield, 2014; Janghorban, Roudsari and Taghipour, 2014; Salmons, 2015; Mirick and Wladkowski, 2019), only little is known about the impact of the virtual mode on the role of the researcher, on the participants, on the interview methods, on the type of data produced and its quality. In this panel, we aim to raise such questions and to discuss the methodological and ethical considerations made in this time of uncertainty that has accompanied us in 2020. We welcome papers that may include, but not limited to, the following topics:

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of using online interviews for qualitative data collection?
  • How to evaluate the quality of data collected through online interviews?
  • How to adapt interview guides and techniques when conducting online interviews?
  • Has online interviewing changed the relationship between participant(s) and the researcher? How to critically question such changes?
  • How to assess the impact of online interviews on the participants? How can researchers address these possible implications on the participant?
  • How to guarantee participants’ confidentiality and privacy when conducting online interviews?

Keywords: qualitative methodology, interviews, conference technology, research ethics

Covid 19: new challenges for field research and data gathering in qualitative research – a comparative exploration

Dr.Claudia Globisch1; Dr.Markus Gottwald1; Dr.Andreas Hirseland1; Daniel Kühn2

1Institute of Employment Research, Nuremberg; 2University of Ausburg

The "gold standard" of qualitative social research is the open, spoken interview carried out face-to-face in co-presence. Co-presence plays a crucial role in establishing trust during the interview since the bodily shared situation allows for a different existential engagement in the interview situation providing “the most natural conversational setting, the strongest founda-tion for building rapport, and the best opportunity to observe visual and emotional cues” (Johnson et al. 2019)

Due to restrictions in line with Covid-19 policies which aim at diminishing socio-physical con-tact, qualitative research in ongoing or recently started field studies found itself confronted with new challenges affecting data collection and analysis. Besides questions concerning field access, technical requirements and data security, the demand to switch from face-to-face in-terview techniques involving physical co-presence to more distanced telephone- or video-in-terviewing raises questions concerning the process of generating data and subsequently the quality of data itself.

The presentation will discuss restrictions as well as new opportunities induced by the pan-demic’s circumstances as they appear in different research contexts. Drawing on observations made during the course of two qualitative research projects targeting different groups in the field of social policy and poverty research - jobcenter professionals on the one hand, a hard-to-reach group of welfare recipients on the other – we address the following topics:

First, we will briefly discuss differences between face-to-face interviews conducted on the spot and technically mediated forms of interviewing via video and telephone. This comparison focusses on how – in principle – qualitative interviewing is shaped by the means of its technical transmission and how this influences the conditions of capturing (aspects of) social reality.

Secondlly, we will illustrate these reflections with examples taken from the field research men-tioned above. Not least, the look at interviewing as an interactive practice will reveal how technical transmission compared to on-site interviewing influences the interviewer-inter-viewee interaction, altering the role of the interviewer through technical requirements and the relation between “frontstage” and “backstage” (Goffman) in doing interviews.

Thirdly, we will discuss some of the implications considering the application of these different types of interviewing in relation to various research interests and methods considering the quality or richness of data which can be gathered by the different modes of interviewing. It seems, that technical transmission is more efficient in economic terms and might open the door to enlarge the coverage in field research, while on-site interviewing evokes more density and detail in the information/data gathered.

Using internet technologies for qualitative interviews: methodological and ethical reflections of two PhD candidates

Livia Tomas, University of Neuchâtel; Ophélie Bidet, University of Neuchâtel

Face-to-face interviews are still regarded as the “gold standard” of qualitative interviews, while online interviews are merely presented as a second choice or an alternative option. However, qualitative research has been strongly affected by the health pandemic that erupted in March 2020, highlighting the strengths and the possibilities that the use of internet technologies such as Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp, and Webex provide for qualitative scholars.

This paper is based on two ongoing qualitative research projects. First, the project “Transnational Ageing” that analyzes mobility patterns of Swiss retirees that are currently living in Spain. This project was confronted with a very limited access to participants, because the Swiss government strongly recommended to minimize contacts with people from the risk group (as e.g. people aged 65+) and to avoid travels abroad during the COVID-19 crisis. And second, a PhD research on the development of structures and centers for fasting practices located in France and in the French speaking part of Switzerland. Face-to-face interviews were conducted with experts working in such structures and people practicing fasting. As crossing borders and scheduling personal contacts became eventually impossible during the COVID-19 crisis, also this project was confronted with difficulties in driving its fieldwork forward. 

Drawing on their experience, the authors reflect on methodological and ethical issues in connection with the use of internet technologies for qualitative interviews. These reflections will revolve around 1) recruitment strategies, 2) logistical and technological issues, 3) ethics, 4) building rapport, 5) use of video, and 6) care of participants before and after the interview. The authors will show which changes they had to make in their projects to adapt to the new interview mode. Furthermore, they will share some strategies that worked well to deal with some well-known difficulties of online interviews.