Mobile Research Methods

The early mobile research applications collected participant data via text message and closed-ended question. However, the last two years have brought smart phone applications with enormously expanded functionality that have the potential to revolutionize research.

These new applications allow participants to submit text, voice, photographs, video, and responses to closed-ended questions, and can be used for both qualitative and quantitative research.

They also access the participant’s smart phone GPS system in order to track the participant’s location. This allows researchers to do things like push a questionnaire out to participants every time they visit a particular establishment.

A major advantage of using the mobile phone as a research platform is that people almost always have their phone with them. This means that researchers can capture their behaviors, and reactions to events, instantaneously. It also means that participants have with them a tool for recording these experiences using a variety of media.

A disadvantage of using the mobile phone as a research platform is that it doesn’t provide respondents with a way to submit responses that involve deep reflection and refined articulation. For this reason, if a qualitative study requires providing respondents with a way to reflect deeply and refine their thoughts then the mobile phone method should be used in conjunction with an online diary or discussion board platform.

Some smart phone platforms allow surveys to be activated by having the respondent scan a QR-code. This allows, for example, retail stores to post signs in their stores that invite customers to scan QR-code and complete a survey regarding a particular subject.

The mobile phone applications that we use include mobile panels, smart phone surveys, and mobile multimedia ethnography.