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Remote Research and Remote Working: Connecting through technology Part 2

07 March 2019 - BY Silvana di Gregorio

Remote data collection

As we mentioned in our last post, remote working is on the rise, with an average day in 2017 23% of workers spent some time working at home, compared to just 15% of workers in 2001.  

But what implications does this have for qualitative researchers, how they work collaborating and collect data?  In this blog, we’ll discover some best practices for remote data collection.

Just as you can work remotely with members of your research team, you can also collect or access data remotely. Janet Salmons (2016) distinguishes between three types of qualitative data:
  • Elicited data – data which the researcher elicits from respondents – such as interviews, participant observation, diary studies
  • Extant data – data which already exists and has not been influenced by the researcher – such as newspaper articles, Twitter streams, government reports, web pages
  • Enacted data – data which is generated with participants during a study – such as engaging participants to react to various images, to respond to vignettes or games

Elicited data

Any of these types of data generation can be done remotely. It is possible to conduct interviews or focus groups remotely – using Zoom, GoToMeeting, or Slack – for example. You can elect to just capture the audio or the interview can be conducted using video – so both the researcher and interviewee can see one another. With Zoom and GoToMeeting you can automatically record the interview. However, the researcher will be restricted to interviewees who have access to a computer or smartphone with a good broadband connection. For some types of research, this restriction is not a problem but for others you may be introducing a bias against those who are not digitally connected. A major advantage of interviewing remotely is that you are not restricted geographically. Market researchers have been using online focus group tools for several years now.  They are exploring more ways to conduct qualitative studies online. Monika Wingate (2018) of Digsite discusses a range of online options for market researchers – from concept iteration where respondents will be interviewed in their own home environment drawing on their experience of competitive products that they use to respondents using their own smartphones to conduct their own ethnographies - videoing or photographing  their shopping, for example, and uploading these files for online discussion later.

Recording interviews and focus groups leads to the need for transcription. MyNVivo is a cloud based transcription service that uses automation technology to provide verbatim transcripts in half the time of the recording. Think of it as your automated transcription assistant. It has an editor where you can make corrections and tag speakers. And you can automatically download the transcripts into NVivo so that they are synchronized to the original audio and video file. You can also download the transcript to use with any other software package.

Extant data

There is a large amount of extant data available on the Internet. The British Library and the Library of Congress are involved in mass digitization projects, digitizing their huge collections of manuscripts, images, newspapers, sound files etc and making them available to the public. In addition, there have been large research projects devoted to digitizing various collections. One example is the Digital Panopticon which has put together fifty datasets that relate to the lives of 90,000 convicts from the Old Bailey between 1780-1925. This collection allows researchers to track changes in the criminal justice system as well as to zoom down into the cases of particular individuals with a wealth of qualitative data. The project was a collaboration between academics from the Universities of Liverpool, Sheffield, Sussex, Oxford, and Tasmania and was funded by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

In addition to these large scale collections, data is constantly being created in blog posts, social networking sites, virtual worlds, twitter streams etc. There is a whole digital world being created that is ripe for analysis by social scientists. One example is the work of Crystal Abiden a socio-cultural anthropologist who has written extensively about Internet culture – in particular, her work on Instagram influencers and the culture of micro-celebrities (Abidin, 2016; 2018).

Researchers need to address ethical issues when using extant data found on the Internet. The Association of Internet Researchers have been addressing these issues since their first framework for ethics in Internet research in 2002. As the Internet has been developing and changing rapidly year on year, they updated their guidance in 2012 and currently plan to publish new guidance in 2019. In preparation for the new guidance, some members of AoIR have published a volume of case studies of recent Internet research and the ethical issues they raise. In the epilogue, Kinder-Kulander and Zimmer (2017) point out that the ethics literature has focused on elicited data, not found (extant) data and “there is no ‘ethical research’ of the internet in the social age”. They conclude that “we can only strive for ‘ethically-informed’ research practices”.

Enacted data

Enacted data collection methods can be highly collaborative – with participants even working as co-researchers to co-construct knowledge. It has become common practice for people to use their smartphones to take photographs or videos and upload them onto Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social media to share with friends and family. Researchers can leverage what has now become common practices and design studies where participants construct their own data. For example, Evernote can be used as an app on a smartphone or tablet and respondents can upload photos, record audio and video or write notes in a folder shared with researchers and/or other research participants. The folders are synchronized in real time.  I used Evernote in this way in a study on e-learning students and how they accessed learning while moving between formal and informal learning spaces. The students determined where the ethnography took place. They were asked to keep a record of their learning activities over a two week period – by writing in Evernote a description each day of where they were and what learning activity they were doing, uploading photos of their environment as well as uploading a 15 second audio recording of the ambient sound in their environment. So they were using Evernote as a mobile diary. I was able to later import their Evernote notebooks into NVivo for analysis. See this YouTube video for further explanation of this method - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjnRzdxWdYQ&t=395s

Salmons (2016) and Paulus et al. (2014) give numerous examples of enacted online data – including photo elicitation, walk-along interviews (recording GPS locations), photo-voice techniques to document experiences of a common issue, navigating virtual communities etc. There are a lot of creative ways to engage and empower research participants to produce their own meaningful data.

Final thoughts

Online collaboration and online research are relatively new areas. The technological tools that we can use are continually evolving and offering new opportunities for how we can work together and do research. They offer researchers new opportunities as well as new methodological and ethical issues to consider.  This is an evolving field and we are only limited by our imagination.


Abidin, Crystal, (2018) Internet Celebrity: Understanding Fame Online. Bingley, UK: Emerald Publishing.
Abidin, Crystal (2016) “Aren’t these just young, rich women doing vain things online?: Influencer selfies as subversive frivolity.” Social Media + Society 2(2): 1-17. DOI: 10.1177/2056305116641342 <Open Access>
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, Workers with advanced degrees more likely to work at home on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2018/workers-with-advanced-degrees-more-likely-to-work-at-home.htm (visited January 02, 2019).
di Gregorio, S. (2014) Mobile Methods using Evernote and NVivo 10 for Windows, YouTube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjnRzdxWdYQ&t=395s
Kinder-Kulander, K. and Zimmer, M. (2017) Epilogue in Zimmer, M. and Kinder-Kulander, K. (Eds.) Research Ethics for the Social Age: New challenges, cases, and contexts, Peter Lang, New York. http://michaelzimmer.org/files/Internet_Research_Ethics_for_the_Social_Age.pdf
Markham, A. and Buchanan (2012)  Ethical Decision-Making and Internet Research: Recommendations from the AOIR Ethics Committee Approved by the Ethics Working Committee (Version 2.0), 08/2012, AOIR
Paulus, T., Lester, J. and Dempster, P. (2014) Digital Tools for Qualitative Research, Sage Publications, London.
Salmons, J. (2016) Doing Qualitative Research Online, Sage Publications, London.
Wingate, M. (2018) Managing the Shift from In-Person to Online, QRCA Views Magazine, Winter, pp. 18-21 - http://emflipbooks.com/flipbooks/QRCA/Winter_2018/book/18/ (visited January 02, 2019)