How to take advantage of online data collection methods during and post COVID-19

1.   Introduction

Collecting data is key in research. Various data collection methods or approaches have been used over the years but during COVID-19 pandemic, some methods became relevant more than others due to the precautionary measures put in place by the government. One possible way to carry out research effectively during and post COVID-19 era is to take advantage of the remote data collection methods over the traditional physical methods. Surveys and interviews can be conducted using the following convenient online data collection ways.

2.   Data Collection Methods

2.1  Computer-assisted web interviewing (CAWI)

Computer-assisted web interviewing (CAWI) is an internet surveying technique in which the interviewee follows a script provided in a website. The questionnaires are made in a program for creating web interviews. The website can customize the flow of the questionnaire based on the answers provided, as well as information already known about the participant. Various methods can be used to reach your participants e.g. sending web links, emails etc.

2.2  Computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI)

Computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) is a telephone surveying technique in which the interviewer follows a script provided by a software application. It is a structured system of microdata collection by telephone that speeds up the collection and editing of microdata and also permits the interviewer to educate the respondents on the importance of timely and accurate data. The software is able to customize the flow of the questionnaire based on the answers provided, as well as information already known about the participant.

CATI may function in the following manner:

  • A computerized questionnaire is administered to respondents over the telephone.
  • The interviewer sits in front of a computer screen.
  • Upon command, the computer dials the telephone number to be called.
  • When contact is made, the interviewer reads the questions posed on the computer screen and records the respondent’s answers directly into the computer.
  • Interim and update reports can be compiled instantaneously, as the data are being collected.
  • CATI software has built-in logic, which also enhances data accuracy.

2.3  Computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI)

Computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) is an interviewing technique in which the respondent or interviewer uses an electronic device to answer the questions. It is similar to computer-assisted telephone interviewing, except that the interview takes place in person instead of over the telephone. It has been classified as a personal interviewing technique because an interviewer is usually present to serve as a host and to guide the respondent.

2.4  Recommended data collection method during Covid-19

According to COVID-19 regulations travelling to areas where there is ongoing sustained transmission of COVID-19 is very risk so exercising social distancing is particularly important. The recommended data collection methods are CATI and CAWI because the researcher or data collector is not vulnerable to contract the virus therefore surveys and interviews are conducted online without physically engaging the interviewee.

3.   Advantages of Online Data Collection Methods

3.1  Ease of Data Gathering

The Internet is a vast virtual world that connects all kinds of people from around the globe. For this reason, a survey that requires a hundred or more respondents can be conducted faster via the Internet.

3.2  Minimal Costs

Traditional survey methods often require you to spend more money to achieve the optimal results. On the other hand, studies show that conducting an Internet survey facilitates low-cost and fast data collection from the target population. Sending email questionnaires and other online questionnaires are more affordable than the face-to-face method.

3.3  Automation in Data Input and Handling

With online surveys, the respondents are able to answer the questionnaire by means of inputting their answers while connected to the Internet or assisted by the interviewer. Then, the responses are automatically stored in a survey database, providing hassle-free handling of data and a smaller possibility of data errors.

3.4  Increase in Response Rates

Some researchers argue that online survey provides the highest level of convenience for the respondents because they can answer the questionnaire according to their own pace, chosen time, and preferences. Response rates can be increased through follow-ups and reminders.

4.   Taking Advantage of Online Data Collection Methods

The researcher needs to acquire adequate knowledge to effectively use online data collection tools. Some relevant issues to take note are explained below;

4.1  Identifying the online data collection platform to use

If you know the kind of research to be conducted either its quantitative or qualitative this will help to decide which platform to use.

4.2  Cost of the online data collection platform

Take cognisant of the cost and subscription involved in usage of the platforms

4.3  Acquiring Training

There are different online platforms, so the best way is to get familiar with at least one software. Most online platforms have online tutorials which makes it easy for the user to get acquainted with the software. Engaging the software technical support or institutions who have already used the software to assist will be another idea to pursue. The other option would be getting an external consultancy who will then capacitate the researchers.

4.4  Target population

Understanding the target population, will also help whether the target respondents will have access to the following;

  • Internet access
  • Computer literacy when using CAWI or CAPI
  • Respondents have emails
  • Access to computers, mobile devices, or phones

4.5  Understanding the physical environment of your target population

You must know your target population physical environment  because sometimes it might be difficulty to conduct a CAPI in crime-ridden area, since tablets or phones are easy targets for thieves.

4.6  Access to contact database

To successfully collect data online you need to have contacts of the respondents in the form of emails, mobile numbers etc.  Unless the target population is not determined data can still be collected from public platforms such as social media.

5.   Conclusion

There has been a radical shift in the research industry due to technological advancement. The COVID-19 pandemic has propelled the need for researchers to embrace various methods of collecting data remotely which are smarter and minimise cost, time and other logistical risks. Taking advantage of the online data collection will make the world of research a better place.

Author: This blog was produced by Crispen Mahlaya, a Business Development Executive at Underhill Corporate Solutions. His contact details are as follows:  | +27 (0)12 751 3237 | +27 73 818 1980.