A Guide to Conducting Remote Research During the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the way we implement research activities. Whether it's market research or human-centered research, prior to the pandemic we would visit the project location to conduct surveys, interviews, and observe the situation – collecting data and people’s experiences directly. Due to the pandemic, our ability to travel and interact with people has become limited. The Kopernik team has to work from home, managing projects and research remotely.

Regardless of the situation, the main components of research – context, culture, and behavior – still need to be well-captured in all of our project designs. Immersion is the best way to capture these three elements, however our inability to travel and meet with people makes this difficult. Our commitment to conduct thorough research to capture context, culture, and behavior has required us to figure out the most effective ways of carrying out research remotely.

Conducting research before the pandemic

Challenges often arise during conducting remote research, these include:

"Managing remote research requires us to really dig deep into the data that we collected. When we are unable to get the nuance from visiting field locations, as a researcher, the way we interpret data needs to be as objective as possible and to draw conclusions based on facts and empirical data."

- Shanina, Last Mile Consulting Senior Analyst

We adopted the concept of remote immersion’ and over the past year, we have been designing remote research projects that can still capture all the data that we need when we are not able to visit project locations.

These are some of our tips on conducting effective remote research:

1. Work with enumerators

All good research projects begin with clear research objectives. This becomes even more crucial for remote research because we need to ensure that all those involved in the research truly understand the objectives of the research. We design our research projects so that we could work with enumerators whom we select and train to conduct field research and be our eyes and ears on the ground. We refer to them as local champions, they live in and have extensive knowledge about the specific project location.

To ensure the data collection by our enumerators goes well, there are few important things to do before the research starts. A clear briefing is essential so the enumerators have the same understanding of the research objectives, the why, what, and how of the research. We also conduct workshops – mostly online -- to develop the enumerators’ skills in data collection and familiarize themselves with the data collection tools they will be using.

2. Daily check-ins and monitoring

Remote research requires us to communicate regularly with the enumerators in the field to avoid assumptions and biases. This will lead to more transparent data collection and better research insights. We normally conduct daily check-ins with enumerators to keep track of the data collection process. During these daily check-ins, enumerators share their updates on their research activities and any challenges they are facing. We also check whether the data inputs are valid.

3. In-depth phone interviews

In certain situations, we can also collect data from the field remotely through in-depth phone interviews. This method works well but can only be applied if there are a small number of participants or informants to be interviewed, but it’s more difficult if we are working with a large sample size. When possible, video calls or conferencing is useful though in many cases the internet connection in the locations where we are conducting research tends to be limited.

When we synthesize data collected from the field from the enumerators, we must refrain from bias, and complementing data collected with phone interviews with participants and key informants can be very useful.

Daily check-ins with enumerators during remote research

4. Audio-visual aids: 360-degree videos, VR, photos, and videos

Another way of achieving remote immersion is through audio-visual aids that can help us to have a better understanding of the situation in the field. Enumerators can support this through a research diary – a daily collection of photos and videos they collect during the research period.

Immersion-driven technology can also support us during the research process. Recently, the Kopernik team has been using immersive 360-degree / Virtual Reality videos taken in project locations to enhance our understanding of the project site. This immersive experience can be helpful for us during the analysis of remote research projects. Click here to see Kopernik’s “VR for SDGs” platform featuring a series of 360-degree / VR videos.

The pandemic has continued to challenge us to find innovative solutions, not just in supporting the livelihoods of underserved communities, but also in our day-to-day work -- including in conducting research. We will continue to explore the best way to improve our work remotely with hopes that we will be able to travel to the field again, soon.