By Katja E. Cahoon
The benefits of doing qualitative research online are manifold (more on that in another post) and there is a proliferation of online platform vendors. If you are new to online qualitative work and even if you have been doing it for a while I have developed three simple criteria to help you evaluate vendors and find the right one for your needs. With two illustrative exceptions I am not listing specific vendors.
- Platform only vs. full service vendor.
It’s simple: some companies only offer a platform without recruiting capabilities. They have integration processes and tools to work with external recruiters. Some have go-to recruiters and will suggest appropriate ones for your project or work with your own recruiters. This means that you are working with two project teams or managers. Vendors allow the recruiter to see participant completion rates so that they can follow up.
Other companies offer platform and recruiting in-house. Integration is seamless and you are only working with one project team or manager. Of course, those vendors will also work with external recruiters. One obvious benefit is that the project team has automatic access to completion rates and will follow-up with participants proactively and automatically.
Watchout: If you work with a platform-only vendor make sure the recruiter has access to completion rates and knows that they need to proactively monitor and follow-up with participants. Otherwise you or your moderator will have extra work.
What to ask a vendor: Do you only offer the platform or do you do the recruiting in-house? If you don’t, what are your processes for integration?
- Vendor background and level of innovation.
Most vendors come from traditional market research and have innovated by building/buying online capabilities. A few are actual technology companies. This matters in two ways:
- Market research innovation focus: A company that stands out here is 20-20 Research. With their suite of offerings and innovative tools within those, such as Quallaborate and machine translation into most languages, it is clear that these guys understand market research and the needs of researchers. And they are constantly improving and adding offerings, such as machine or human transcription and editing of consumer generated videos, iModerate, machine and human analysis, Ethno360, etc.
- Technology background and focus: Recollective (Ramius) is one of the companies that comes from a tech background, and it shows: they have built a super-lean, super-fast, bug-free platform that is also competitively priced. It’s intuitive and easy-to-use for both moderator and participants. This matters because moderators and participants should be spending their time on the actual tasks and questions and not on technology issues.
What to ask a vendor: What innovations that are relevant to in-depth qualitative research do you offer? How can you help me do better online research? How many technical issues do participants or moderators experience in an average project and how do you deal with those?
- Global capabilities, project management, and support.
If you do a lot market research outside the US and Canada global capabilities are essential. First, what does global capability mean? It means that the platform is available in the native language and alphabet (instructions and navigation as well as your guide) and that the vendor provides support in those languages in case tech issues arise. You also want to check on translation options (machine vs. human). Support levels for global studies and in general vary. Make sure you have weekend and after hour support, as effective research often runs over a weekend. Project management quality differs a lot as well. Vendors with excellent project management have dedicated teams and established processes that ensure quality and consistency.
What to ask a vendor: What languages do you offer, what is your level of support for those languages? What is your level of support in general and who provides it, especially after hours and on weekends? What is your approach to project management and who provides it?
There are other points, of course, such as analysis tools, ease of programming your guide and, of course, cost! Please note, costs differ quite dramatically (by thousands of dollars for the same project size) and that a higher price does not guarantee higher quality.
What are other important criteria for you?