COVID-19 and its affects on our market research activities

Monday, March 16, 2020 – Spokane, WA (updated, Wednesday, 3/25/2020, Friday, 5/1/2020, Monday, 8/17/2020)

As with all other industries working with the public sector, our market research industry is among those directly affected by the need to ensure that all employees, guests, and research participants remain safe and healthy throughout the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak in the US. With most of our research activities taking place in the Pacific Northwest, and offices in Spokane (Spokane County, WA) and Federal Way (King County, WA) we have made the decision to limit our research activities for the next 8 weeks to ensure we are not contributing the community spread that is the root of this viral pandemic.

On March 15th the CDC made a strong recommendation that event organizers reschedule and/or cancel their events for the next 8 weeks for events that are of 50 people or more. Our home state of Washington quickly followed suit canceling all public gatherings start March 25th and continuing until it is deemed safe to reopen. On May 1st, the state announced a Phased Re-opening will occur, at which time we can see that focus groups can resume when the state reaches “Phase 3” of opening as that will allow for gatherings of groups of 50 people or less. While the reality is most focus groups consist of 10-12 individuals, during a day we can see more than 50 people cycle through to participate in research which creates an additive effect of exposing multiple groups of people to the infection if we have just 1 case present. We sterilize everything we can, we can ensure that there is social distancing, but we must remind ourselves that we are in the people business and people need to be encouraged to make smart choices, even when that means a very direct and negative impact on our businesses bottom line.

Also, effective March 25th through May 31st (extended from May 4th), we are impacted by the statewide “Stay Home – Stay Healthy” order which prohibits all people in Washington State from leaving their homes or participating in social, spiritual and recreational gatherings of any kind regardless of the number of participants, and all non-essential businesses in Washington State from conducting business.

We often find ourselves recruiting people for research studies that are among the at-risk populations due to targeting requirements and the overall mission of the research activities we are supporting. We also pride ourselves in being an employer who employs people from all walks of life which has key employees who work for us that are among these at-risk populations as well.

Until the end of this 8-week recommended period (May 3rd), we will only be supporting focus groups nationwide that can meet the 6′ social distancing recommendations put forward by our state of Washington, with no in-person research to be completed at all in any state with a Stay Home order is in place. Anyone recruited for an in-person research study will be encouraged to stay home if sick, will be encouraged to wash their hands, use hand sanitizer and cover their coughs/cough into their elbows, and practice social distancing by staying at least 6 feet away from each other. All high-touch facility surfaces will be sanitized prior to, during, and after each focus group.

Looking forward to the time that we can re-open for in-person research studies we expect to be implementing personal sterilization requirements (all who enter our facilities will be required to sanitize with hand sanitizer) we will also be allowing the use of face masks, reminding all about handwashing etiquette, and encouraging any who may be coughing or sniffling to use disposable masks which we will have available for day use in our offices. Many times the sniffles we exhibit are simple things like allergies or the common cold, but in order to ensure everyone is safe and comfortable masks will be required for anyone who appears to be showing symptoms.

Additionally, until our state is out of emergency and we are no longer operating under SafeStartWA Phase Protocol; all focus groups will be set to ensure participants maintain 6′ spacing and proper social distancing.

We hope to be able to resume in-person focus groups in our Washington State-based facilities (Spokane and Seattle/Tacoma) after October 1st (extended from our initial hopes of opening June 15th) or when Phase 3 is implemented in the County in which each of our facilities resides. Phase 3 allows for gatherings of no more than 10 people. Better understand how the state of Washington is opening up in phases.

An important thing to note; Strategic Research’s operations have not ceased. We are still actively recruiting individuals for surveys, qualboards, and online focus groups and will resume recruiting and conducting in-person research once it is safe again using appropriate work from home and social distancing guidelines for all employees and key staff. Offering these non-in-person research opportunities are a great way for us all to continue to gain insights into our communities while being safe and not contributing to this public health crisis.

Given all our recruiting activities are done on CATI workstations our wonderful employees have the opportunity to work from home on all recruiting and data collection projects. Our office in Spokane is also naturally designed for social distancing, and we are able to ensure we are even staying 6 feet apart when working in-person in our call center for those who are unable to work from home due to technology limitations.

We would like to remind all our clients of some of the great tools that are available for researchers as you consider ways to pivot and still proceed with research and data collection. Strategic Research is here to help guide you as we have experience implementing research projects using all of these tools and can provide you with support as needed as you learn how these tools can be useful to you not only now, but also in the future as you consider reaching geographically diverse and/or hard to reach populations.

Industry-leading approaches which are typically referred to as “bulletin boards” can (and do) leverage live webcam meetings seamlessly as part of an overall research approach. One nice benefit of all of these tools is they have a client backroom integrated into the approach, so clients can participate live without revealing themselves to the participants.
Qualboard
Focusvision Revelation and Intervu
Recollective

Another option is to consider using the bootstrapped approaches that we see our partners in UX leverage for fast deploy studies; one downside to these approaches is they often lack the depth of MR backend analytics that are written into the previous industry approaches, but for those who do not need or leverage these features, these can be great options
Zoom
Telegram or Slack chat groups
Google Hangouts
Facebook Messenger
Discord

And of course, don’t forget that changing a methodology all together is always an option. We support full online and telephone quantitative studies for all clients throughout the Northwest and beyond!

Best wishes, practice smart business planning and good hygiene, and stay healthy!

If you have any questions regarding this post; or our approaches to health and safety in research please contact Joanne Vega, Research Director, joannev@strategicresearch.net or 509-324-6960 x203.

Here are some more helpful resources and links we’ve bumped into about Market Research while social distancing!

https://www.focusvision.com/covid19-market-research/ – COVID-19 Market Research Best Practices from Focusvision