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.
- qualitative study
- public health
- health policies and all other topics
- study design
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Handling editor Seye Abimbola
Contributors MDCR and SAM conceived the study and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. CM, AM, SH, NSW, WD, AS and LKB contributed to the writing of the case studies and edited the manuscript. SAM supervised all the writing and editing of the manuscript. All authors have read, critically revised the paper, and approved the final version of the manuscript.
Funding This work was supported, in whole or in part, by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (OPP1217275). Under the grant conditions of the Foundation, a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Generic License has already been assigned to the Author Accepted Manuscript version that might arise from this submission. They further acknowledge the funding support we received for the research projects. In the Philippines: Global Grand Challenges, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In Zambia: UCSF Gladstone, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research, Vittol Foundation, NIH and the CDC. In India: Johns Hopkins Alliance for A Healthier World. In Uganda: The Johns Hopkins Catalyst Awards. Author NW was supported by training grant T32 MH103210 from the National Institute of Mental Health.
Disclaimer The funders had no role in the decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The content is the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the views of any funder.
Competing interests None declared.
Patient consent for publication Not required.
Data availability statement No data are available from this practice paper.
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