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Part Availability 101: Automatic vs. Manual Missions

Research Advisor Emily Quandt walks us through part design best practices—providing pointers on whether manual or automatic is best for your next study. 


Emily: Hi, I'm Emily. In this video, we're going to explore part availability. Specifically, I'll explain the different choices you have on designing a mission, what those choices mean for your research and a few considerations for success.

So what is a part and what does part availability mean? Each diary mission is made up of one or more parts. Parts are a way to organize your data and to make the mission a little more digestible for both you during analysis and your participants while they're completing it. Each part is made up of one set of questions. Each time a participant submits their answers to that set of questions, we call it an entry. Sometimes these questions only need to be asked once, and sometimes your set of questions need to be asked multiple times, like for example, an inventory type part. This may sound a little convoluted, especially if you're a visual alert like I am.

So here's one way you can fix your parts. Let's say your diary mission or your research study is a filing cabinet. This filing cabinet holds all of your data from all of your participants. Inside your filing cabinet you've organized your data into folders. Each folder represents a part or one set of questions within your diary mission. So every time a participant submits their answers to a set of questions it's filed into the corresponding folder as an entry. Part availability can be found on the setup page of your mission at the bottom of the details tab. Manual missions allow you control when parts become available for scouts to complete. In this case, a part will only open to scouts when you open it. Automatic missions allow scouts to choose their own pace or how quickly they complete parts in the mission. Meaning as scouts complete the minimum number of required entries for a part, the next part will open for them automatically.

Now let's take a look at how to open parts in a manual mission. You'll need to start on the setup page of your in progress mission. You can navigate to the setup page from the menu bar at the top of your page. While the setup page automatically drops you into the details tab, these mission details won't be editable after your mission is launched. Instead, we'll be heading over to the questions tab. You'll notice that part one has a green check mark by it, which indicates a part has already been published. Publishing a part means that it's ready to be open to scouts and you won't be able to make any edits. In order to open a part to scouts, it must be published from this page. This true for all manual missions. It is important to note, however, that part one is the exception to this rule for every mission. This is because the first part of a mission is always published and automatically launched when your mission is launched. You'll just need to come back to this page to publish subsequent parts.

Once I've finalized and published my part, I'll need to head over to the manage page to open it for my scouts. Here, you can see, two of my scouts have completed their entries for part one. To open the part that I just published, I'll select my two scouts and click open parts from the menu bar that appears. From here, I can select the part that I want to open to my scouts and open it. Now, these scouts will get a notification that the part is available for them, and they can begin submitting their entries.

As a research advisor, one of the main questions I get from other researchers is how do I know which one to use? Which one should I use? To answer this I'll always recommend we take a look at your research and understand your research goals first. Let's start by looking at some key considerations for a manual mission. First manual missions are helpful when encouraging scouts to complete a part over a set number of days. Say, for instance, you're including a longitudinal part in which you want entry spread out over one week. If your mission is set to manual, you can make sure no one rushes through because you'll have more control over when discreet parts are open to scouts. Manual missions are also helpful if you're hoping to add or customize subsequent parts based on responses to earlier ones. In manual mode, parts can be added and edited until published. Remember once the part has been published, it can't be edited though. Parts can be open simultaneously and overlap with each other as well in manual mode. In the end, manual gives you more control over your mission, but it also is a higher degree of managing your field work and staying on top of the mission timeline. Scouts will need to wait for you to open the parts before they can proceed. So frequent, clear communication with scouts is essential for your mission success.

Automatic missions, on the other hand, are great for when parts don't need to be completed over number of days and scouts are able to go at their own pace. They're even able to finish a mission and in a single day if they want to. This also allows for a more hands off approach for you, the researcher, because once a scout has completed the minimum number of required entries for a part, the next part will open for them automatically. Automatic is also great if you're on a tight timeline. This way scouts, aren't waiting on you to open parts, nor do you need to remember to open each part. So if you're looking for ease or speed, automatic is your friend.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind, whether you choose manual or automatic for your next mission. First use parts to your advantage by making the mission more adjustable for your scouts. Press can be used to break up a larger set of questions, especially if many of them are open-ended. Parts with more than three or four open-ended questions tend to lose engagement due to typing fatigue. We always want to remember that scouts are using their thumbs and looking at a small screen. Breaking a longer set of questions into multiple parts can also benefit you during analysis. It can help make your data easier to sort and parse through.

Second, always send out a message to let scouts know what your timeline is. Tell them if they can work at their own pace, or if they need to pay attention to when parts are open to them. Scouts appreciate thorough communication and clarity around what's happening. This can also build trust and rapport, making it more likely they'll do a great job on your mission.

If you ever have questions about part availability or designing your mission, make sure to contact your research advisor.

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