To Probe or Not to Probe, That is the Question
Are follow-up probes essential in online asynchronous studies? Or do they just sap participant energy? We invite you to add your views.
In the discussion forum environment (asynchronous), you definitely can probe and ask follow-up questions. The technology support for making this easy has improved a lot – we can now flag things, send a mobile message, or e-mail to the respondent.
Treat participant energy as a scarce resource
I treat follow-up questions as if I have only a very limited number I can use, and I must use them only when really important. Here’s why: I really love it when participants start to engage with each other. But they do this less if I’m constantly butting in.
Not only that, but asking people to go back to something they said before is sort of like trying to rewind a conversation by hours or days — people have moved on. The energy is now somewhere else. So you spend a lot of participant energy asking them to go back. When people do go back, their responses are often not worth the cost in energy.
The virtual head nod
Probing does have one clear benefit — it shows people you are listening. And listening is hugely important. Participants see what you say, and see whether you are listening and understanding them or not.
If I don’t have a definite need to follow-up for additional detail, I sometimes restate what I am hearing, just as I might do in a F2F discussion. This approach generally results in feedback from the participants that they really felt “heard”, which is so important. Who wants to talk to an empty room?
The virtual head nod is even shorter — just an indicator that I’m there, reading and listening.
Clients distracted by other work may log in and read something intriguing that happened earlier in the week. Then they want me to post a follow-up.
To keep everyone happy, I tend to bring this kind of thing back in with a fresh topic later on, rather than ask people to go back.
I do make my presence regularly felt, as often as possible given the demands of eating and sleeping, but limit the number of probes.
There is another school of thought that you can run these projects with no probes at all — I think that would produce significantly reduced output.
What’s your approach?
What’s your view on probing? Essential? Unnecessary? A waste of participant energy? or something else?