3 Reasons our research improved because of COVID-19

Photo by Edward Jenner on

Danielle Tucker, 5th November 2020

We get asked a lot about the methodological value (or limitation) of studying household decision making during a time when measures to prevent the spread of a global pandemic meant that many households were spending more time in their homes, and had limited access to resources.

We believe that this focus on the home environment has benefited our research in a number of ways:

  1. Studying householders at a time when they are spending more time in their home environment the relational dynamics of household members more salient.

Our research took place in July 2020, in the midst of the gradual easing of the first round of lockdown restrictions (in the UK) put in place to control the spread of a global pandemic. A period of enforced ‘shelter in place’ had provided time for households to reflect on their relationships, bringing to the fore our sense of values and priorities. We talk more about the impact of COVID-19 on ethical consumerism here. Largely, whether the pandemic means that households have more plastic coming into their home or less is irrelevant to our research because we do not focus on quantity so much as processes of decision making. We found that householders were much more conscious of what they were bringing in to and out of the home due to disruption in the normal routines of shopping and refuse collection. Participating in the study has exposed their habits and what they do on a daily basis, providing an opportunity to reflect and help us to understand their decision making.

Photo by Jhosua Rodru00edguez on

2. A more flexible method to authentically capture household decision making.

You can read more about how we adapted our study from a workshop design to a diary study here. We found in practice the diary study to be a more flexible method where we could capture much more live interaction with participants in their homes. This is where people were making decisions and we were able to capture that in the moment. At a time when participant’s lives were in upheaval, participants were free to send their responses at any time of the day which suited them and by asking for just 10 minutes a day, they could fit it in around their normal day to day lives. Throughout the study, we only had one participant drop out of our sample.

3. A deeper and more holistic approach.

On adjusting the study, we intentionally decreased the number of participants that we sought. Our aim was on understanding process rather than representativeness and generalisability.  The data we would be capturing from people now involved them interacting with us for seven days consecutively. That’s a lot to ask of participants. However, the volume of data was larger (seven different photographs as examples with explanation that accompanies those and discussion around additional questions). It’s much richer data than we would have been able to collect in the two and a half hours of the workshop. At the end of the week, you get really good insight into the plastic usage, and how the household is functioning and you can really get in to see what kind of awareness they had. It provided a really good and broad understanding of their behaviour.

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