Researching key audiences during the COVID crisis

With lockdown and social distancing in place, online qualitative insight communities are helping many organisations understand their audiences better – whether that be assessing the experience and impact of adapted service models with service users or exploring volunteers’ feelings and needs at this unsettling time.

Research participants not only have more ‘at home’ time to be able to contribute to online insight communities, but they area also tending to reflect on bigger issues of society, care and what really matters.  These topics are ideal for consideration in the slower, more reflective form of research that insight communities support.

Fiveways has successfully used online insight communities to help clients understand the impact of their services and generate actionable recommendations for how they might be developed.

“We had never been involved with an online insight community before, however I am really pleased we took this approach with Fiveways as it worked well and opened the eyes of the organisation to how valuable the approach can be.” – Lucy Ellis, Evaluation and Research specialist, Youth Sport Trust

Why use online insight communities?

Online communities are incredibly flexible. Participants log into a bespoke, secure online platform whenever they like, from wherever they like, giving them more control and allowing them time to reflect and consider their feelings about a topic. Communities are particularly useful when:

  • Anonymity and privacy are important: all participants can choose a username to protect their identity, and tasks can be set to ‘private’, so that only the moderator can read their response.
  • You are dealing with sensitive, difficult topics, or those where participants might rethink their opinion based on information or reflection (we have experience of running online communities which have lasted 3 days and ones which lasted 6 months).
  • You need in-depth case studies or information from participants about their circumstances, their ‘story’, or their feelings at different stages in their service journey.
  • You would like participants to discuss their thoughts, feelings, and opinions with others.
  • You need the flexibility to identify a certain sub-group of participants (e.g. those who have left the service) and set this newly identified sub-group different tasks and discussion topics.
  • You would like to get a visual insight into the participant’s life by asking them to take pictures or videos.
  • You want to be able to respond to emerging issues by asking participants to help us understand them and find solutions.

What do they cost?

Typically, communities cost around the same as face to face focus groups, but deliver much more insight. Of course, final costs will depend on the number of participants, amount of time the community is open for, and the number of topics to explore. However, as a guide, if recruitment is through the charity’s existing contacts, a community can be planned, delivered, expertly moderated, and fully analysed from around £4,000+VAT.

A Case Study: Youth Sport Trust

YST’s Talent Support programme aims to help talented young people aged 13-19 maximise their sporting potential by supporting them to achieve a balanced lifestyle of training, competition, academic study, and social and family life.

Fiveways was appointed to determine the impact of the support provided to athletes and parents and how that support might be developed. Part of our approach was to generate ‘in the moment’ insight from both parents and athletes whilst they were participating in the programme through ongoing insight communities.

We used a platform called Incling to develop a flexible and visually appealing community that was open for an extended period over the summer of 2019.

We made sure that parents and athletes were clear about the aims of the community and how it would work. They were kept motivated through ongoing sharing some of the key findings, emphasising their contribution to YST’s work, offering bespoke motivational videos from YST athlete mentors, and entry into a prize draw.

The tasks asked both athletes and parents to take a moment to pause, and to examine the pressurised situation they found themselves in, to reflect on the support provided by the Talent 2019 programme, and to identify where and how it worked most effectively.  Both parents’ and athletes’ contributions were thought-provoking, extensive, productive and, because they were collected ‘in the moment’, focussed and relevant.

Some of the tasks we asked parents and athletes to complete, and discussions we initiated on the community included.

  • A description of a ‘day in the life” of a young athlete or parent, with its highs, lows, pressures and inspirations (a private task so others could not see what was written).
  • Composing a message to a younger sibling or friend about why they should take part in the Talent programme.
  • Stimulating debate about what athlete education should be about, what should it try to achieve?
  • Providing feedback to the YST team in the form of a text message.
  • In-depth reviews of different elements of the programme.

Feedback from both parents and athletes about the community was very positive:

“It was great that I could give my feedback when I had time, that the forum was available 24/7”

“I found the tasks very beneficial, they really made me think”

And our client was happy too,

“We are seeing insight communities appear more in other proposals now and we are considering using them for our own work and I don’t think this would have happened without the seeing Fiveways use them so effectively.”– Lucy Ellis, Evaluation and Research Specialist, Youth Sports Trust

If you would like to discuss how online insight communities can help your organisation understand its audiences better during this period of lockdown and social distancing, please get in touch –

You may also be interested in a rapid outcome evaluation Fiveways has recently delivered for Bipolar UK reviewing its Peer Support on Zoom (PSoZ) service, set up in response to the COVID pandemic.