We are exploring the evidence behind whether or not conducting remote interviews for academic research is a neutral issue or something that has been discredited or discouraged by the studies to date. We are aware that there is quite a bit of discussion at the moment about using video and phone calls for research generally. Our anecdotal experience is that since we started transcribing research interviews in 2003, academics have been using telephone calls, internet voice calls, video links and much more besides. Face to face interviews remain common, but increasingly both interviewees and interviewers are finding remote interviewing advantageous for a whole host of reasons – convenience, environmental issues, cost and ease of access.
The first piece of research we have looked at is a paper by Dr Susie Weller at the National Centre for Research Methods. Although it focuses on a longitudinal study, was written in 2015 and the video call apps have changed slightly, the work still resonates today. It does focus on one to one interviews/chats.
You can find a link to this study here: http://eprints.ncrm.ac.uk/3757/1/Susie%20Weller.pdf
“The potentials and pitfalls of using [internet video calls] for qualitative (longitudinal) interviews”
This study looked at the potentials and pitfalls of using Skype for qualitative (longitudinal) interviews. Dr Weller thought that that at the time of the study (2015) the use of digital communication technologies had become increasingly commonplace in social research but that little research had been done into the potential of such technologies in Qualitative Longitudinal Research (QLR). The paper explores the implications of introducing internet video calls (e.g. Zoom, Skype, FaceTime), as a new mode of data collection into an established QLR study that has primarily generated data using biographical interviews conducted in participants’ homes. Dr Weller looked at the ‘Your Space’ project; a decade-long study following the lives of up to 52 young people from across Britain. The project actually looked at the implications of shifting from physical co-present interviewing to remote modes on key issues for QLR research such as sample maintenance, research relationship continuity, and rapport. The study assesses whether internet video calls might be a useful means of conducting short ‘catch-up’ interviews between the main waves of data collection, or as an alternative way of carrying out case study intensive interviews.
Throughout the study Dr Weller talks about the need to ensure continual consent, including verbal consent at the start of each interview.
Issues Arising with Video Calls
Issues identified were as follows: Rapport, willingness to divulge, quality of online connection, ease of use of technology.
Dr Weller found that some participants were not comfortable being interviewed online with one person saying:
“To be honest I was quite nervous. It really sounds silly but I was quite nervous speaking to be interviewed on the phone. I’m not really a phone person”.
Feedback from Participants
A feedback form resulted in findings that when asked about a preferred interview mode for future interviews, 25% requested a home visit, 50% asked for an online interview and 25% indicated that a phone interview would be most appropriate.
This study was from 2015 and technology has probably moved everything along since then. However the preferences are fascinating. At the time, 75% were happy to request a phone or online interview.
Dr Weller talks about the cost of research being reduced, the approach using online interviewing being environmentally sustainable and speed of getting research completed (again cost). Timing can be arranged to suit the interviewee, particularly those with a busy life or harder to reach due to geographical circumstances or home life. She also states:
“Internet video calls are incredibly versatile as discussions can be broken off and resumed at a time appropriate for all parties.”
Reliability of Apps
It seems that at the time the study was written Skype was the more reliable app than Facetime, its main competitor. Zoom was not part of this study.
Issues with Responses
There are discussions in the study at how to build rapport when online and to ensure involvement and a ‘shared frame’. Some respondents thought that remote interviewing was less personal but considered it just as good as face to face for getting information. Another respondent said “[I] wouldn’t have said that by you coming here or by face-to-face that my answers would be any different.”
Most people said that they did not have any qualms about saying stuff over the internet and were used to talking in this way. As time goes by communication by video calls is going to be so common place it will feel second nature to most of the population.
Settings can play a part though. Where a respondent is can change the way they respond to specific questions. Dr Weller gives the example of an interviewee being spoken to in a hostel for homeless young people. She notes that the video calls did give her a chance to gain an insight into their spaces but also that it gave the interviewees a chance to see her office, but she was not sure this was a positive.
“Studying the minutiae of interaction across the different interview modes has been very revealing. Internet video calls can be technically challenging but if the audio and video quality are good and the researcher and participant are comfortable with the mode then they offer a degree of flexibility and informality that physical co-present interviews can lack.”
Support for Remote Interviews
If you are in need of a transcript for any interviews, please feel free to get in touch directly with our transcription manager and managing director, Anna Gresty, who would be happy to help. You can also get an instant automatic quote by clicking here. Data Protection is at the heart of our operations – our GDPR compliant UK based secure server is ISO27001 accredited and we are registered with the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) and hold Cyber Essentials accreditation.