Webcam Real-time Focus Groups & IDIsWebcam/Video conferencing has been available for more than a decade, but has had slow adoption for qualitative research until recently, when high-speed internet penetration increased and tight economic conditions limited travel for in-person research. Now that participants and clients are becoming familiar with mobile videoconferencing in their personal and professional lives, we expect Webcam/Video conferencing for qualitative research to expand more rapidly than ever. During live Webcam/Video group sessions, pre-recruited participants in various locations use webcams with their computers, or smartphone video cameras and apps, to see and interact with the research moderator and each other in individual video windows on their screens (“Brady Bunch” style). The moderator can make available discussion materials, websites, whiteboards, and collaboration tools as needed. This method can also be used for one-on-one sessions. If a participant is not able to use a video connection they can still participate in voice mode. Clients can observe sessions in real time from a computer or smartphone app, communicate privately with each other and the moderator via Text Chat, IM or phone, and watch recordings of the sessions later from a private online archive. Some clients like to gather in one room with the moderator to view the live sessions on a large screen and confer first-hand as a team. Some researchers are comfortable conducting Webcam/Video sessions with little or no tech support – especially simple one-on-ones. But for group sessions, it is often necessary to work with a dedicated technical “co-pilot” so the moderator can focus fully on the participants. Expert technical partners can also provide guidance about how many participants to include per session, how to prepare them to participate, best ways to share videos or other materials during the sessions, and how to avoid or recover from glitches. Some also offer video editing, archiving, and transcription services. Critical projects tend to require platforms that have been adapted specifically for qualitative research, and provide reliable voice/audio support and video-management tools.
Webcam Sessions – Strengths: Webcam/Video sessions can be especially valuable with targets who are difficult to recruit for in-person sessions – such as new mothers and their babies, affluent working couples, people with difficult health conditions, busy professionals, etc. As with Online Discussion Boards, Webcam/Video groups offer a great balance: group participants are less likely to feel pressure to “conform” since they’re participating from the psychological security of their home or workplace, but they are still interacting in real-time as they would in an in-person group. Researchers and clients are often pleasantly surprised to find that the “connections” that occur between participants and researchers during Webcam/Video sessions can be every bit as good as, and sometimes better than, face-to-face sessions.
Webcam Sessions – Challenges: Not everyone in your target may be comfortable appearing on live video. For example, teens can be hyper-conscious of how they appear to others, or they may have been trained for security reasons to avoid communicating via webcams with anyone but family and close friends. It may be necessary to take extra steps to assure participants that webcam/video conferencing is legitimate research, and their privacy will be protected. As with Online Discussion Boards, it’s never safe to assume that group webcam participants will interact with each other spontaneously. Moderators need to find engaging ways to encourage group interaction