Bad Internet, Bad Timing, and Bad Availability: Overcoming Common Online Qualitative Research Roadblocks with Asynchronous Focus Groups


By Krystal Rudyk, Marketing Manager

Online focus groups and interviews have increased drastically in popularity over the past few years. What initially began for many as a forced adoption due to pandemic-mandated social distancing has now become a popular choice to continue embracing the benefits of online qualitative research. Online focus groups and interviews have several benefits over in person – they're cost effective, increase the agility of a project, they’re more environmentally friendly, eliminate the need for travel, have made geographic barriers all but non-existent, and that’s just to name a few.  

Even the best online focus group and interview software and researchers aren’t immune to ALL potential roadblocks, though. There will still be those pesky instances where schedules don’t line up, internet access is inconsistent or nonexistent, or participants are simply unable to commit to a certain time. Fortunately, there’s another solution that can help qualitative researchers clear these hurdles and get the insights they need in a way that’s convenient and effective.  

Asynchronous qualitative research, online research in which moderators and participants can log in to a discussion board at different times and participate in the discussion when it suits them, is particularly effective in overcoming barriers which may make more traditional synchronous groups more difficult

Roadblock: Lack of Reliable Internet Access 

Even today, in a world where internet is deemed more of a necessity than a luxury, there are instances where having qualitative research participants log in online can pose problems. For example: 

  • In rural or remote areas where internet access is inconsistent, slow, or nonexistent, 
  • In lower income households or neighborhoods, where people are still, unfortunately, less likely to have reliable internet access, 
  • In situations without wifi where the participant may have access to mobile data to participate using their phone, but you don’t want them to have to incur data costs to participate. 

Participants in an itracks Board asynchronous study have the option to participate in offline mode via the dedicated mobile app. If they lose internet access or go somewhere without wifi, they can respond in the app, and responses will be uploaded automatically when they reconnect. That way, responses are still captured at a place and time that’s convenient to participants (perhaps during a train or bus commute), even if that place and time doesn’t happen to have proper internet access. 

The reality is that for all online focus groups and interviews, even if you are able to secure enough participants who have internet access to complete your study, your sample is now biased in favor of those with internet access. In many cases, this is still considered an acceptable sample, but in cases where it is especially important to be able to include those without consistent, reliable access to internet (or if you specifically need people to be able to respond in a location where they will be temporarily without free/unlimited internet access), asynchronous online platforms like itracks Board may prove a suitable solution. 

Roadblock: Unpredictable/Mismatched Timing 

Perhaps you’re conducting an in-home usage study, and you want to observe participants in the act of using something in the most realistic circumstances possible. Or you want to capture the exact moment they experience something specific. For example, 

  • You want to see how participants use at-home first aid products in the case of minor injury, 
  • You want to observe people applying makeup during their normal “getting ready” routine in the morning, but you can only observe one person at a time and you have a tight deadline, or 
  • You’re conducting research with people across the globe, and the times that they are available are when you are in bed. 

You can’t exactly ask people to give themselves a papercut at an agreed-upon time just so you can watch them bandage it up, and conducting focus groups at 2 a.m., while possible, is certainly less than ideal, especially if you have multiple time zones to accommodate. The asynchronous methodology allows for this unpredictability and mismatched schedules, and as long as you use a research-specific platform like itracks Board, will still allow for things like photo and video responses (using either the dedicated app, or allowing participants to film themselves using their native phone app and uploading the video to the Board later on), polling, and whiteboard exercises.  

Limited Participant Availability 

Recruiting quality participants is tricky, especially when your targeted respondent’s time is particularly valuable, or their schedules are unpredictable. Specialized physicians, for example, may be willing to participate in qualitative research, but unable to commit an hour  at a pre-designated time. 

Asynchronous discussions allow the participants to respond within a time frame, not requiring an exact time,  greatly increasing show rates and participation in participant segments where scheduling is an issue. A great example of this is in the ALS TALK project conducted Dr. Shelagh K Genuis and Westerly Luth, MSc., which you can learn more about in the webinar here. This qualitative study was conducted with people living with ALS and their families, using the itracks Board platform. Due to the nature of disease, predicting a time where all participants would be capable of responding was next to impossible, so the asynchronous methodology was ideal.  

Asynchronous online discussions can be a useful methodology for overcoming many potential research roadblocks. Learn more about itracks Board and how you can use it for your next qualitative research project here. 

Interested in reading more about asychnronous research? Check out Introduction to Asynchronous Online Qualitative Research (aka Online Discussion Boards or Bulletin Board Focus Groups).