While quantitative survey research is well suited for virtual methods, qualitative interviews are traditionally conducted face-to-face and can present more barriers when attempted virtually compared to survey methods. Concerns related to using alternative methods for qualitative interviews center on the ability to build rapport and missed visual cues, which may impact the quality of the data. However, virtual interviews may allow increased flexibility in scheduling and can also alleviate participant burden in locating transportation or childcare. This presentation will describe the process of adapting a qualitative dissertation study from in-person to virtual interviews.
Methods: Using adaptive respondent driven sampling, 60 individuals reporting injecting heroin/non-pharmaceutical fentanyl in the past month are being recruited for qualitative life history interviews in Dayton, Ohio. A total of 13 in-person interviews were conducted in early March 2020. As a result of COVID-related restrictions related to research activities the study was adapted for virtual methods.
Results: Several considerations had to be given in the transition, especially as participants are people who use heroin and discuss potentially illegal activities. First, the study team had to consider the participants’ access to internet and phone. Second, additional methods to protect participant privacy and confidentiality had to be implemented, as the interviews were no longer taking place in a secure room in an office. The interviewer had to consider measures for both the participant and interviewer to protect participant privacy and confidentiality while conducting the interviews at home. This also included considerations and planning for ways to increase the safety of the virtual methods used for the interview. Third, the format of the interview had to be reconsidered and adaptations were made to the life history calendar interview process. Modifications included emailing prompt cards for question responses to assist in expediting the interview process. Fourth, incentives were modified from cash to digital payment options, and a protocol was developed to ensure delivery to the correct email address. Fifth, recruitment efforts had to expand, as the interviewer was no longer in the community to engage and network. Additional recruitment methods included the use of social media platforms and targeted ads to recruit participants. Finally, considerations had to be given for the budget of this federally funded project, as the majority of funds in the first year were allocated to travel for data collection.
Implications: This timely presentation provides guidance in innovative adaptations that are also applicable for post-pandemic research. In addition to providing important lessons learned in modifying a qualitative study from in-person to virtual interviews the presentation will include practical recommendations regarding managing privacy and confidentiality, virtual interview procedures, digital payment options, and recruitment methods.