The COVID-19 pandemic has led to many changes – including how we connect with each other and how we live our everyday life. For our research team and behaviour change experts at Social Change UK, change is, by definition, something we embrace and take in our stride. We see change as an opportunity to build on and improve what we do – an ethos we are applying to how we work due to social distancing.

Although there’s a shift away from in-person research (which might not always be possible or indeed appropriate in any given situation), that doesn’t mean the research has to stop! We have been implementing and embracing a range of research methods across all our live projects, which has allowed progress to be made and has in many instances led to deeper, richer and more valuable insights to help understand people and their behaviour that isn’t always possible when applying in-person research methods. 

We have highlighted some of the alternatives we’re utilising in place of in-person research methods, along with the increased benefits and value they’re providing to our projects and ultimately to our clients. 


In place of in-person interviews, we are using telephone interviews or video interviews (interviews via video call/ online).

Telephone interviews, we know from experience, enables:

  • Participants to feel more relaxed when talking to interviewers, as there is an increased degree of anonymity talking via the telephone rather than face-to-face. This often supports participants to feel able to open up about their experiences and views on subjects which might be more sensitive, taboo or difficult to talk about than would perhaps be possible in-person;
  • The creation of an environment which allows for more natural pauses and delays than would perhaps feel ‘comfortable’ for participants doing in-person interviews, proving the potential for participants to have the space during the interview to reflect on their experiences and views before answering;
  • The interviewer to really focus on what participants are saying by removing all external senses except audio from the research process to pick out important details quickly from the interview.  

Video interviews, we know from experience, allow us to:

  • Focus in real-time on what participants are saying as well as their body language to explore key points in more detail as videos can be re-watched in the analysis stage to bring to light any deeper insights from observing body language;
  • Enable participants to feel more comfortable as they are in familiar surroundings at home, in a space that feels safe and secure rather than an unfamiliar environment;
  • Set an interview date and time that works best for each participant (as they don’t have to get to a certain location for a certain time) to further increase the ease for them to take part and maximise their engagement with the interview. 
A man running a virtual focus group using a video call.

Focus group and workshops.

In place of in-person focus groups, we are utilising the world of virtual (online) focus groups.

We know from experience that virtual focus groups mean:

  • Geographical location is no longer a barrier – in-person focus groups are set within defined geographical boundaries to be able to travel to a focus group venue. Virtual focus groups are open to anyone within our overall target audience group, no matter the location or distance;
  • Participants are able to take part with as much anonymity as they find comfortable (i.e. turning their video functions off) which can increase the authenticity of experiences and views shared without ‘self-censoring’ to fit into emerging group norms;
  • We are more able to involve more ‘peer’ co-facilitators to take part in digital focus groups to encourage and enable engagement from more ‘hard to reach groups’ and those who may find it easier to speak to people they know and trust;
  • Less commitment requirements to take part – participants can do so from their own home or workplace/ place of choice, leading to improved recruitment rates and ensuring that a wider range of people are able to take part with barriers to participation reduced.


In place of in-person surveys, we are offering telephone assisted surveys and increased use of online surveys.

Telephone-assisted surveys mean:

  • We can still provide one-to-one support to participants to complete a survey (who may find it difficult for a number of reasons) but with an additional advantage of putting less perceived ‘expectation’ on someone to complete a survey quickly than would be implicit with in-person surveys;
  • Participants have more opportunity to take part in a survey at a time that is convenient for them (as interviewers can arrange a phone call at any time), thereby increasing participants’ ability to take part and reduce drop-off rates or non-completes.

In-person ethnography.

In place of in-person ethnography, we are using digital ethnography (via bespoke platforms such as Web Creator Suite) and have so far found the benefits of this method to include:

  • Increased flexibility for participants to fit observation of their lives and completion of ethnographic activities into their own day (without needing to make any adjustments for in-person observers) which can lead to more natural, authentic and increased ability to observe peoples’ experiences and behaviours in their natural setting (as with in-person ethnography), but to extend the timeframe and extent to which this is possible as digital methods are less resource and time intensive to set up and implement, meaning ethnographic study can take place over a longer timeframe and yield greater insights;
  • Allow ethnography to take place and be recorded and observed beyond the ‘pre-determined’ limits of in-person ethnography, for example as soon as participants wake up or as they go to bed, allowing deeper exploration of their lives and behaviours;
  • Digital platforms have timers and reminders to help support participants to complete ethnographic activities in full and minimise drop-off rates.    


We have considerable experience in undertaking research using a vast range of research methods, and at this time we are embracing technology as alternatives to in-person methods to ensure research can continue and projects are not put on hold.

We will not simply opt for a digital or telephone version of the method we may have originally planned to do in-person if we don’t think it is appropriate. We always apply our expertise and knowledge when designing your research methodology and we will opt for the methods that we feel will uncover the insight you need. In person research doesn’t always mean better outcomes – which we have proved with many of the projects we have been delivering during this pandemic. Regardless of the situation we will always tailor the most suitable alternative method (or a mix of methods) to address the key research questions and address the project requirements.

Our research team are excited to be continuing to offer high-quality research and use our skillset to help uncover the insights that support and lead to positive social change – it’s the essence of what we do both now as the world is adjusting to new ways of working and into the future.  To find out how we can help with the research you require, contact our research team via:

hello@social-change.test or 01522 775 060.