Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Interviews v Online Surveys

Interviews and Online Surveys, both are research data collection methods. Both are useful in different ways. For example, interviews allow the researcher to meet with the people s/he wants to talk to, they allow for more rapport building and perhaps more honest and thoughtful responses. During interviews the interviewer can re-phrase questions, clarify points, ask new questions depending on the answers of the respondent, one can also get insights from the respondents’ reactions, gestures, tone of voice, etc.

On the other hand Online Surveys, or surveys in general, are (or should be) quicker to fill, have (or should have) clearer and concise questions. Questions could have a list of options to choose from, so as to keep the range of possible responses short and controlled. Online surveys can be completed where and when is more convenient to the respondent... so no need to arrange meetings etc.

In general, interviews are considered better means for collecting data, especially qualitative data. However, surveys could also be designed to collect qualitative data. Interviews and surveys can work together in many ways. For example, surveys can be used previous to a series of interviews to explore an area of research which is little known. Surveys would raise some general topics of discussion which could then be investigated in detail through the interviews. This of course could take a long time.

For BRII's stakeholder analysis we need qualitative data. Data that allow us to understand how Research Management Data are created, used, updated, exchanged, shared, etc. Data which also can give us insights into what the people creating and using these data DO and cannot do but would like to do, what they think of the quality of the data they have, what they think of their current processes and how they could be improved. We want all this and more. In my opinion the best way to get all this information would be through interviews. To talk to stakeholders face-to-face in their work environments. Maybe to ask them to show me what they have and what they do in situ. However there are some constraints which will not allow me to do that in all cases.

As in BRII we have some time constrains, I thought on ways to use that little time in more productive ways. Not only BRII is a short project (for such ambitious aim!) but our stakeholders experience even tighter time constrains. People who work with Research Management data are usually busy people. These range from Project Managers to Principal Investigators, from Research Facilitators to Departmental Administrators. BRII aims at helping them in their work, but it needs some help from them as well. I am aware that some or perhaps most of our stakeholders could not have time for interviews.

So I have thought on running the interviews and online surveys in parallel, both serving the same purpose, i.e., one will not be used to get information for the other, but will be designed to get the same kind of information. Interviews will be used when stakeholders have the time to meet with me (30mins to 1hr) and online surveys would be sent out by emails when the stakeholder is busy.

Clearly data from interviews would be richer, but as things are in Oxford, data from Surveys could be more in quantity and perhaps providing many more perspectives from people who work in different areas of the University. Print this post

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