Over the past 18 months, most people are now accustomed to disruption. Our workplaces have been disrupted; our social lives have been disrupted; our personal lives have been disrupted. On top of all these disruptions, there have also been a number of false starts where things started to open up only to be quickly shut down again. It’s no wonder we’re all a little skeptical of what’s around the corner. The good news is that as more people receive their Covid-19 vaccinations, the more ‘normal’ life begins to feel! For qualitative researchers, this means resuming in-person focus groups.
Even though qualitative researchers did a great job pivoting to online focus groups and implemented a number of virtual methodologies to continue with qualitative studies, nothing fully replaces the rich insights moderators gain by being with participants in person.
It seems that as more activities are permitted there are always asterisks tagged on: Groups of 10 can now socialize (*but they can’t socialize outside this social bubble); Fully vaccinated people can now go into stores without their masks (* unless their local health authority claims otherwise); It’s safe to travel again (*yet many international borders remain closed).
As moderators and qualitative research firms plan for in-person focus groups, it won’t really be business-as-before. Fortunately, focus groups tend to host small groups of people, but what if some of the recruited participants aren’t vaccinated? Who is responsible for ensuring anyone attending in-person qualitative research studies has both vaccine doses administered?
Qualitative recruitment and research firms should consider including a “Are you fully vaccinated against Covid-19” question in the screening guide. Of course, anyone could say “yes”, so recruiting teams would need to ask for vaccine proof. It’s going to feel a little weird for some people to agree to get together with strangers to participate in an in-person study, and if recruiters can provide assurance that everyone participating in the study has proof of being vaccinated, this will certainly make recruiting easier, and ensure the health of the participants is being respected. Keep in mind that if you’re hosting your focus group at a designated focus group facility, you’ll want to ensure the office staff have also been vaccinated.
Showing proof of vaccination allows for in-person research to take place without masks. So much non-verbal communication happens through facial expressions, and it wouldn’t be worth the effort to host an in-person focus group if participants’ faces are covered.
Of course, Covid protocols are going to differ between jurisdictions and you’ll want to first familiarize yourself with local rules and recommendations before committing to hosting an in-person study. There are plenty of places around the country that are quickly opening up, and this will only pick up steam as we move into summer.
It’s an exciting time for qualitative researchers! We’ve all had to get used to doing things differently, but there’s nothing like people to coming together in person to participate in market research studies.