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Adapting research methodology during COVID-19: lessons for transformative service research

Sarah Dodds (School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing, Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand)
Alexandra Claudia Hess (School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing, Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand)

Journal of Service Management

ISSN: 1757-5818

Article publication date: 10 August 2020

Issue publication date: 8 February 2021




Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has created a challenging, yet opportunistic, environment in which to conduct transformative service research (TSR) and assess research methodology. The purpose of this paper is to evaluate and gain important new insights of a group interviewing method with vulnerable people and their support group, adapted and transferred online during COVID-19.


This research examines the experiences of 35 participants (nine family groups composed of parents and young people), involved in a research project that explores a sensitive topic, youth alcohol consumption and family communication, that was moved online during lockdown. Researcher reflections on running group interviews face-to-face prior to COVID- 19 and online during lockdown are included in the data.


Thematic analysis of participant interviews and researcher reflections reveals four key benefits and three limitations of online group interviews with vulnerable people and their support group. The benefits include being comfortable, non-intrusive and safe; engaging and convenient; online communication ease and easy set-up. The limitations relate to lack of non-verbal communication, poor set-up, and privacy and access issues.

Practical implications

The global environment is uncertain and being able to implement effective qualitative research online is essential for TSR and service research in the future. This paper provides a step by step procedure for an innovative online group interviewing technique that can be used by TSR and qualitative service researchers.


Conducting research during a pandemic has provided unprecedented insights into qualitative research approaches and methodology. This paper contributes to literature on service and TSR methodology by providing a framework for researchers to investigate vulnerable groups online in an effective, safe and non-intrusive way. The framework also has the potential to be applied to other service contexts.



This paper forms part of a special section “The Coronavirus Crisis and Beyond: Implications for Service Research and Practice”, guest edited by Prof. Volker G. Kuppelwieser and Dr. Jörg Finsterwalder.


Dodds, S. and Hess, A.C. (2021), "Adapting research methodology during COVID-19: lessons for transformative service research", Journal of Service Management, Vol. 32 No. 2, pp. 203-217.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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