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Qualitative research in the new corona virus environment: issues and opportunities

Thoughts on how qualitative research might be impacted by the current coronavirus pandemic; issues, and opportunities.

As a workplace strategy consultancy, engaging effectively with our client’s employees is critical and Sapio Research is our go-to supplier for staff surveys. The process is always stress-free and turnaround times for both building the survey and providing the results data are very quick. I particularly appreciate the way Sapio Research demonstrate a real concern for quality and frequently make helpful suggestions regarding question formats or raise a query if something doesn’t look right in the question set. I have found them to be unfailingly helpful and responsive and would not hesitate to recommend them.

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Associate Director

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As we settle into our 6th week of lockdown in the UK, it still doesn’t sound as though we are going to be out of it for a while yet.

We’re hearing a lot of talk of pivoting, and we’ve seen that for some 54% of UK businesses, turnover dropped by an average 45% in March in our Covid-19 UK Business Barometer. It’s tracking large and small organisation’s sentiment and impact on a fortnightly basis while we’re in the initial lockdown.

Being on top of business sentiment helps us keeps abreast of when we might be ready to ramp up the telephone and qualitative fieldwork, the state of which I’ve discussed earlier. Currently, things in that area are pretty much on standstill.  So, it was really interesting to chat with fellow members of the Association of Qualitative Researchers recently to hear their questions and how they think the world of qualitative research might change moving forward.


  1. Skewed focus group audiences: research respondents may become more self-selecting, as the most risk-averse, or those with underlying health conditions continue social distancing and shielding, almost as a lifestyle choice.
  2. Distance respondents are prepared to travel to a viewing facility: we are getting more used to traveling locally, so what will be needed to persuade a respondent to travel to a venue many miles from their home?
  3. Client contact: with travel curtailed for some time, the potential interaction with respondents and client conversations behind the viewing screen will disappear.  
  4. Group sizes: with the greater need for space, will viewing rooms have to be larger, or respondent group numbers smaller? what impact will that have on the dynamics?
  5. Venue hygiene standards: will the big sell for viewing facilities now be their hygiene rating and details of their cleaning routine?
  6. Live streaming: for the viewing facilities not currently offering it as a service, it will be a must.
  7. Social interaction: it’s going to have to be from a distance, making workshops and research playback more awkward and far less fun.


  1. The comfort of video calls: B2B tele-depth interviews, conventionally held on the telephone if not done in person may comfortably move to teleconferencing as the world has become more familiar with Zoom and alike.  This will help with developing rapport and reading body language, so in turn lead to deeper, more authentic B2B insights.  
  2. Improved mindfulness: we’ve all had to stop and recalibrate our daily actions, reflect upon established behaviours and consider change. So now is a great time to explore opinions as people are better able to articulate ‘everyday’ actions.
  3. Increased use of online moderation platforms: the technology and established tasks are there, but clients can be nervous of switching from conventional groups. This could be the necessary reason for experiencing the methodology.
  4. Greater need for professional moderation skills: ever been on a “quarantini” night in with a lot of verbose friends? If no one takes control its chaos, people talk over each other with the added irritation of speech delay, nobody hears anything! Conversely, the icebreaking moments when there is a screen between you it’s painful with a quiet group of people, giggling and a physical presence doesn’t get you anywhere. It takes real skill to show empathy, listen, and move the conversation on at a sensible pace. Qualitative moderators have done it for years, so business leaders may need to borrow a few of the tools from our box.

The need to understand consumers or decision-makers hasn’t gone away during the pandemic, but it’s certainly impacted the conversation topics. We’ll all remember BC (Before Corona) but for how long? Many longer-term projects are switching to shorter, quick turnaround ones.  Quick pulse insight collection activity is probably needed now more than ever as things remain in flux.  

As a curious researcher, it will certainly be interesting to observe the changes in society and business and try to anticipate how the developments will impact ourselves and our clients. As for those of us that can, it certainly looks as though we’ll be working from home for quite some time to come.

If you have any more thoughts about how the qualitative research industry will be impacted by the corona virus, I’d love to hear from you jane.hales@sapioresearch.com

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