Words by Lindsey Brinkworth and Bryn Pernot, Visuals by Emi Tolibas
With the rise of internet ubiquitousness, reaching participants abroad has never been more accessible or affordable.
But that doesn’t mean international research is without its fair share of headaches.
Juggling the logistics—from timezones, to partner management, to translation, to cultural expectations—can lead to workflow-breaking hiccups. And, in the worst cases, failing to account for these tricky nuances can derail your entire study.
Our team at the Studio, dscout's in-house research consultancy, has become particularly adept at managing remote, international research with aplomb. Here’s their guide for staying on top of a whole host of “make-or-break” research project particulars.
If you’re working to recruit internationally, and are planning on working with a set recruiting partner, you’ll need to consider a few variables to determine which partners make the most sense for your project. Primarily, you’ll want to know: (a) Is your market in English? (b) How many markets will you need to manage?
If you’re running a simple 1-market project in English (ie. with the UK or EU, if you’re US-based), it makes sense to work with a recruiter and manage the fieldwork yourself.
However, for a 6-market, foreign language project, you’ll likely need a global partner to help you.
There are three options for how your partner can play a role (and a few example partners we’ve relied on):
- Recruit only; Askable (AU/NZ), fieldworkhub (UK/EU)
- Partner recruits, you manage fieldwork
- Works when your international market is in English
- Recruit and manage, 1 non-English market; ASMARQ (Japan)
- Work directly with local recruiter/manage partner
- Maintain direct channel of communication with the moderator
- Recruit and manage, multiple non-English markets; Fiorente
- This is a full-service package, ideal for complex, multi-market research
- Higher cost is worth the access to global partner
No matter what partnership you choose, and who you choose the partner with, it’s helpful to focus on building a relationship. Ask to use the same moderators as previous projects, if you can.
A few other notes:
- Be prepared to thoroughly explain any and all parts of the research process to your recruiting partner. Never take it as a given that your international recruiting partner will just intuitively understand why we do things a certain way. Sometimes cultural differences will prompt a recruiting partner to ask, “Why this?” For example, ASMARQ asked several times why it was necessary for scouts to show their faces on camera for video questions; this is because of cultural concerns in Japan around privacy in general.
- Clarify Expectations. When choosing a partner, tell them you need to work with the moderator to verify the moderator speaks English and that you'll be able to work with them to do analysis.
- Holidays. Work with a moderator to determine if there are any regional holidays over fieldwork and whether scouts will be available in that time frame.
- Hours & Weekends Are there any cultural differences or boundaries on when research can be conducted in a given week? (ex. Moderators not comfortable/willing to work over weekends in Japan) Clarify what hours your moderator will be available to work with you.
- Time Zones. Chicago’s noon is the UK’s 6 PM. Make sure you’re on top of anything you need to clarify/say with respect to the time difference and send emails out in a timely manner.
- Translation. If you are working in a non-English market, you may need a separate partner for translations. (If you’re running your project with dscout, we automatically transcribe videos in Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese, and Korean—and translate open end responses in those same languages). Build any translation turnaround time into your overall project and analysis timeline.
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International research just takes longer. We recommend setting aside some extra time for the following:
- Running a pilot in your home country. This doesn’t have to be a full pilot—but pre-testing a study with a small group of people, and focusing on the core parts of your study design, can give you critical insight of any miscommunications that may get even less clear with translation.
- Reviewing submissions in English AND local language with client & moderator. Try to review within 24-48 hrs.
- Allot a minimum 2 weeks recruiting time when working with a recruiting partner. Expect 3 weeks for special recruits or larger sample size (n=50+ participants)
Running a pilot is recommended for complex projects. You’ll run this before running your international fieldwork in order to tighten up the study design, address any confusion from participants, develop participant communications to be shared/translated/localized for your moderator, and generate data that can be used to develop initial themes and show moderators what is expected of international scouts (ie. “This is what a good entry looks like”).
Use this pilot to flag misinterpretations, confusion, low detailed responses, etc. and to improve your understanding of how fieldwork will proceed.
Formality + tone
We generally write research in a dscout-voice, which is informal and colloquial. In the case of international research, you’ll want to work with your client and/or your moderator to determine the best tone for your research. Tone informs the style of translation that will be used. It may be best to point-blank ask: “We’re planning to use informal tone - does that work?”
When doing international research, your client may ask that you create consent forms that are localized. You may need to work with your team’s lawyers to do this. Any time you’re doing research with minors (minor defined differently in each market, ages 13-18), this adds another layer of complexity. To err on the safe side, assume you’ll need to start from scratch each time.
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Working with recruiters
If you’re using a specialized remote platform, build in time to do a platform demo, and show recruiters your pilot data so they get a sense of what you’re looking for. Work hand-in-hand with your recruiter to get your participant screener translation right.
Recruiters will tend not to ask for an extensive screener, only core criteria. Identify your key items. If anything is flexible, lean away from giving them that. Less complexity is better!
Demographics in other markets
Your recruiter will know the proper balances, but the focus is primarily on getting bodies in the door. Don’t expect perfect demographic splits. Be explicit with your partner about what demographics you need them to collect (ethnicity/race, income, etc).
Most projects require 2-3 weeks for recruiting. They’ll likely recruit off of your chosen platform, and onboarding happens after recruiting. You may not have a chance to review applications, so express to your partner NOT just the qualifications/criteria, but ALSO the expectations around articulation, video presence, etc.
Verify that you can actually pay scouts with whatever payment mechanism your company is accustomed to. At dscout, we use PayPal, but some markets see PayPal as sketchy. Clarify how incentives will be handled upfront.
If you also use PayPal, note that it always pays in US currency—so refer to compensation in USD throughout. There’s a charge to convert currency, so it’s nice a little extra to the incentive amount to cover conversion. Be explicit when talking to participants about this (ie. “We know you have to convert this, so we’ve built that into your incentive”).
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About international participants
Both international moderators and participants may need some coaching. Make sure to stress the importance of willingness to be on camera (if you’re collecting multimedia entries).
Include pre-written messages for the moderator that they can pass onto participants for unmoderated research (ie. “This is what makes for a good entry, this is what makes for a not-good entry.)
Some example language to stress the need for video specifically:
“Our client is really invested in your story and what you have to share, and it’s important to see your face as you tell it.”
“It’s impactful to hear what you have to say, and most impactful when we can see you saying it.”
Writing research design
Be extremely explicit when writing your research. At the beginning of all open-ended questions, clarify exactly how many sentences you want them to write. At dscout we’re often colloquial in our instruction language, so make sure to write in a more straightforward (dry!) style in your missions, avoiding informal words and colloquialisms. Again, rely on your moderator to review your study design and flag any words that don’t translate well.
Media upload errors
If you’re running an unmoderated study, establish a clear flow of how to handle failed media, and be prepared to clarify that process for moderators. Expect that you may have a higher percentage of media upload errors in international markets. Make sure to clarify to your moderator which videos are top priority (Example: if you only have 1 intro video but collect 14 moments, the intro video is higher priority!)
Given the (likely) strict sense of timelines on the partner side, be prepared to provide updates on the incentive process. For example, note when you expect to start processing the incentives, and when participants can expect to receive them. Ping any internal payment team ahead of time to let them know you’ll be paying out.
The fieldwork partner may want to pay participants all at once, so you’ll need to be on top of participant management and checking for completion. It’s likely that you’ll be still in the process of getting data translated when fieldwork ends, so you’ll need to be focusing on getting any offbase entries re-done, getting missing media, and confirming that folks have completed their entries.
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Cultural differences can make it difficult to assess the validity of the data: is a specific point due to the specific people recruited, or because of cultural values or attitudes that we might be unaware of or unfamiliar with? Is there an important nuance missing because we aren’t fluent in or knowledgeable about the culture? Consider working with partners who are knowledgeable in culture and who can help you validate your findings with respect to the culture.
Here are a few methods you could consider integrating into the research:
- Conducting live interviews with scouts who are fluent in English
- Reviewing the findings with your recruiting partner or your management partner
- Reviewing the findings with a partner who is familiar with the culture of the market you’re studying (i.e., the translator who came into the office to review video)
Take great care to build into your research plan the points at which you’ll be sitting down with your moderator to review preliminary observations, watch videos, and let them come up with their own observations.
Small sample sizes and lack of familiarity with cultural background may make it really hard for you to make claims about “Is this actually a trend?” vs. “The 6 people we talked to said this.”
Getting necessary background from your moderator when you’re trying to assess attitudes and behavior is key to analyzing a study effectively.
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Mac Hasley is a writer and content strategist at dscout. She likes writing words about words, making marketing less like “marketing,” and unashamedly monopolizing the office’s Clif Bar supply.