Impact of COVID-19 to socio-economic research and surveys

1. Introduction

As human beings, we are creatures of habit, and most often we are comfortable doing things which are familiar to us. Before COVID-19, life was simple and like a routine. We had little regard to how life can change and how we would have to bear unintended consequences of drastic changes. COVID-19 introduced us to the ‘new unusual’.

It is undebatable that COVID-19 drastically impacted lives across the globe. Psychological, emotional, and overall well-being of people has changed severely in less than a year (Klingenberg, 2020). While COVID-19 has impacted on virtually every part of our lives and in all economic sectors, this essay seeks to answer the question: what has been the impact of Covid-19 to socio-economic research and surveys?  The essay will briefly introduce socio-economic research methods, discuss negative impacts of the pandemic before it touches on the significant changes it has brought in socio-economic research and surveys.

2. Socio-economic research methods

There are two basic methods that are normally used by researchers for conduction socio-economic research and surveys: primary research and desktop/secondary research methods. Generally primary research is defined as a method of data collection used by researchers to collect data directly, rather than reliance on previously collected data (Osang, et al., 2013). According to Osang, et al (2013), primary research is carried out to address a certain problem that needs in-depth analysis. It helps researchers to get first-hand data and enables them to maintain the authenticity of data without any alteration. This form of research includes interviews (telephonic of face-to-face), online surveys, and observations (Osang, et al., 2013).

On the other hand, as Osang, et al (2013) asserts, secondary research, also known as desktop research, refers to collection or synthesis of existing data. It involves data available from the internet, government and nongovernment agencies, public libraries, educational institutions and commercial information sources (Osang, et al., 2013).

3. Impact of Covid-19 on socio-economic research

Covid-19 has disrupted the way socio-economic research and surveys are conducted significantly (Maglio, 2020). Since the announcement of lockdowns, travel ban and quarantine restrictions, researchers across the globe are forced to stay home. Field research, evaluations and field work visits suddenly came to a pause (Maglio, 2020).  This caused disruption in addressing socio- economic problems that are faced by countries individually. According to Maglio (2020), conducting socio-economic research helps to find information about the level of socio-economic development, population quality of life, local problems etc.  It can be viewed as one critical way of supporting and providing a basis for decision making on policies. Therefore, the disruption of research processes  due to the pandemic  also caused disturbance on policies that affect socio-economic related issues (Maglio, 2020).

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, people are encouraged to stay home and maintain social distancing. A lot of people now work from home. The way people connect, engage, and interact is affected by working remotely (Klingenberg, 2020). For researchers, this means a halt for face-to-face interview data collection.  Researchers therefore miss out on more in-depth and comprehensive understanding of the studied phenomenon.  Body language and facial expressions are more clearly identified and understood through face to face interviews, and the interviewers can probe for explanations of responses. A sudden halt to face to face interviews make researchers to omit on more valuable information and thus analysis and interpretation of data.

The sudden halt of face to face interviews has provided telephonic interviews/video interviews as data collection alternative. In telephonic interviews however, behaviour and body language cannot be observed, respondents can hang up at any time and interviews are often shorter than face to face interviews (Osang, et al., 2013). One of the biggest challenges is when the network of either the interviewer or interviewee is disrupted, a lot of information can be missed, hence, wrong information captured. Although researchers can complete several projects in the same industry, same contact person can rarely be re-interviewed, thus, inability to get same information (Osang, et al., 2013).

Other than restrictions of conducting face to face interviews, researchers face challenges of access to enough electronic tools and equipment necessary to efficiently work remotely such as laptops, software, mobile phones and reliable data (Klingenberg, 2020). This has made research organisations to move rapidly to ensure that researchers had necessary tools and equipment at their disposal, since it was never budgeted on, this has caused financial strain on such organisations. Moreover, meetings, workshops and brainstorming sessions of researchers are now done virtually.  One element that is difficult to replicate virtually is the way problems and challenges are solved together in the room. Often energy of others is bounced off. This means, some people are unable to express themselves virtually.  We all “social beings” after all. COVID-19 crisis forced socio- economic researchers to look at how this element can be recaptured in a new and innovative way.

According to Maglio (2020), due to COVID-19 crisis and all the shock it came with, several socio-economic research projects and studies hit a pause, and this has caused widespread concern about future availability of grants or reallocation of funding. For instance, in South Africa several funding applications are put on hold, research studies and conferences cancelled.

4. Implication of Covid-19 on the future of socio-economic research and surveys

Although COVID 19 has been associated with devastating disruptions globally, especially in the socio-economic research area, it has also led to some significant transformations.  Working remotely has shifted the focus of socio-economic researchers on delivering work of higher quality rather than quantity (Klingenberg, 2020). Flexibility of when and how work can be done increases the space for innovative thinking and creativity of socio-economic researchers. Research organisations may now rely on innovative technologies for data collection which often saves time and reduce travel costs. For instance, video conferencing services in focus group discussions and using social media for face to face interviews (Facebook and WhatsApp).

The bigger picture emerging is that COVID-19 has massively altered and negatively impacted the way socio-economic research and surveys are being conducted. What matters now is how researchers adopt to the new unusual that has been brought COVID-19.

Author: This blog article was produced by Sake Falatsi, a Research Associate at Underhill Corporate Solutions. She can be contacted at | +27 12 751 3237 | +27 60 474 0046.


Klingenberg, M., 2020. Expert Opinion: Home-bound or office-bound after COVID-19, what will your choice be?. [Online]
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Maglio, F., 2020. The impact of COVID-19 on research ethics. [Online]
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Osang, J. E., Udoimuk, A. B., Etta, E. B. & E., O. N., 2013. Methods of Gathering Data for Research Purpose and Applications Using IJSER Acceptance Rate of Monthly Paper. IOSR Journal of Computer Engineering (IOSR-JCE), 15(2), pp. 59 – 65.