SSRS has been expanding our qualitative research capabilities over the past several years to help people’s unique voices be heard and to enhance our understanding of the survey data we collect. While we continue to use traditional focus groups and in-depth interviews to help answer our clients’ research questions, we are increasingly leveraging asynchronous methods like online bulletin boards (OBBs) to conduct qualitative research.
What are OBBs?
OBBs are online platforms hosted on websites so they are easily accessible to anyone with a phone, tablet, or computer. Participants are typically asked to log on for about 30 minutes each day for two to three days. The study moderator posts discussion prompts and activities at the start of each day, and participants can respond at their convenience—any time of the day or night—until the board closes. The moderator then posts follow-up questions and probes to better understand participants’ perspectives. OBBs can be used in a one-on-one format, in which participants are only responding to the moderator, or in a group format, in which participants are also encouraged to comment on each other’s posts.
SSRS Sees Five Core Advantages to Using OBBs for Qualitative Research:
1.More flexible participation. Asynchronous OBBs offer unique flexibility by allowing participants to engage at their convenience. This enables participants with irregular work schedules, family responsibilities, and in any time zone to participate in research that might otherwise not be feasible for them. Additionally, our centralized team of SSRS moderators can log on at any time of day to review responses and pose tailored follow-up questions to individuals or to the whole group. In one study, SSRS staff moderated a series of multi-national OBBs, allowing participants and moderators to engage with the board at any time of day.
2. Encouraging more reflective responses. A core advantage of asynchronous OBBs is that participants don’t need to be restricted by their top-of-mind answers. Rather, they can take their time to reflect on the topics, questions, and activities, leading to more nuanced and thoughtful responses. Further, OBBs can alleviate some of the barriers that have been identified in synchronous focus groups, such as overly dominant group members, by offering space for those who may prefer more time to come up with a response.
3. Effectiveness for sensitive topics. SSRS has been using OBBs in recent years to explore sensitive topics, including asking patients about how disease symptoms and side effects affect their daily lives; exploring the burden, guilt, and coping strategies of care partners to those experiencing psychosis; and the challenges faced by opioid peer recovery coaches. In our experience, OBBs allow participants to share their authentic lived experiences in a safe, non-threatening environment.
4. Increased participant engagement. OBB participants are asked to respond to every question and activity on the board and may also be asked to review and comment on other participants. This generates a much richer dataset than we typically collect in live focus groups, in which we purposefully avoid requiring every person to answer every question. This can result in significantly denser and richer output from OBBs than what we generate from live qualitative research.
5. Opportunities for innovative activities. OBBs provide a unique opportunity to employ creative and projective techniques that can help surface emotions or experiences that may be impossible to capture in a live study. Examples include online journaling, collaborative brainstorming, creating digital collages, or narrating reactions as participants explore a website or app.