Quality Zooming

In the time since the COVID-19 virus hit us, I have been working on a new project with my GEMH lab colleagues. A project that we had to start from the very ground up. This project, which I’m excited to tell you more about in a later blog post, offered me the opportunity to engage in a kind of research I’d had no experience before whatsoever.

We’re building an app to help youth reflect on their digital tech use, and in order for us to know better what to build for our target audience and how, I set out to conduct focus groups. Focus groups are like tiny studies, in which you try to answer a number of questions with a small group of people from your target sample. I had never done this sort of group study before, and although I have interviewed youth one on one (which was a great experience), I was worried about how this would pan out, and especially since we’d have to do these focus groups online.

So far, in a couple of months, our wonderful GEMH intern Denise and I have conducted 8 focus groups, with 4-7 people in each group. These are the things I’ve learned so far.

  • Being forced to do it online has forced us to broaden our reach, in ways that we otherwise might have neglected. We have recruited young people from all over the world, and I’m incredibly happy that youth from all over have participated; from India to Malta, from Spain to the UK, from Albania to Poland. With these diverse youth we’ve had awesome conversations.
  • Yes, conversations! I continue to be pleasantly surprised at how willing and interested these young people are to talk about their lives and their digital tech use. There I was, worried about whether or not the online group dynamic would allow people to open up. Turns out, in each focus group we’ve had wonderful insights into young people’s relationship with their smartphone, not just for Denise and I, but also for the youth themselves!
  • Opening up for people is so much easier to do when you yourself, as a researcher, open up as well. This is why I increasingly feel like questionnaires are a one-way street we don’t want to go down, if we want to find out more about youth’s tech use.. Sharing my own experience, although often different from their own, has helped our participants feel free and comfortable to share their own stories. I feel that this is especially important since I’m sure that online focus groups feel different from real-life focus groups. It’s hard to get to know each other in a short amount of time as it is, and not being in the same physical space makes that even harder. So, my ultimate tip is to really engage, and not only expect your participants to share with you, but to also share with them yourself!

Looking forward to continuing this qualitative journey!

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