Dear digital diary 6 June, 2007
There’s a useful new twist on an old technique over at frog’s Design Mind. In their digital diary study participants used voicemail, e-mail and digital cameras to record their behaviour. These insights were sent daily by e-mail and free phone numbers to researchers who followed-up through the same digital technologies. Frog believe that this rapid feedback created a conversational dialogue and a more responsive study. According to them, the technique is:
- Efficient (digital methodology and remote facilitation require no travel)
- Rapid (digital data collection accelerates response)
- Scalable (process allows for parallel investigations in many countries)
- Dynamic (immediate communication permits follow-up questions)
I can certainly see the advantages, and use of the technology would fit perfectly with certain groups like teenagers. But whilst Frog’s view is that the application of ‘digital’ facilitated the more conversational/ethnographic approach …
Feedback fostered a dialogue between researchers and subjects that mirrored true ethnographic interviews…. Traditional diaries allow for no interaction between researchers and subjects…. Data is restricted in one direction.
… I would argue that there’s no reason why paper-based studies can’t include a dialogue with the participants.
The paper form that I created for my student technology study. Participants reported and categorised their activities throughout the day. The form was based on the work of John Reiman.
I was in regular communication with participants when I used diaries to investigate the way students integrate technology and studying into their lives. I met with the students to brief them about the study and then followed-up each week with a face-to-face or telephone interview. Participants were given disposable cameras, alongside paper forms, to help document their behaviour and surroundings (this was before camera-phones or cheap digital cameras had become widely available). E-mails and texts helped to arrange formal feedback sessions and provide informal support between meetings. Not quite the information deluge that the Frog Design team solicited, but enough to keep this researcher busy in-between.
Digital diaries are definitely an exciting and agile method, but with many technology-driven approaches the technology itself can often become a barrier. I think there’s still a lot of scope for mixing the digital and traditional.