Virtual Churchill Research Design


Discussion of effective and achievable research design for virtual research projects has come to the fore in recent times. The conversion of the Court Education Project into a virtual research fellowship  was initially necessitated by the travel bans put into place by the Australian government in March 2020 and then the subsequent global spread of the pandemic over the course of 2020 and now into 2021.

The Churchill Trust permitted the conversion of my overseas travel itinerary into a virtual trip, this was done in late 2020.  To reflect the new iteration of the fellowship I chose to rename it the ‘Virtual Churchill’.

This post discusses how the Virtual Churchill research was designed and conducted. It will be updated with discussion of the documentary analysis once that section of the research is completed.

Virtual Research in a Pandemic

Jowett in a London School of Economics blog discusses some of the alternative research techniques and the ethical considerations of conducting research during a pandemic and its associated lockdowns. He highlights the below:

the health and wellbeing of participants and researchers should take priority over research timelines and thesis/dissertation deadlines. So, while it may be possible to change your interviews from face-to-face to online interviews, researchers should consider whether asking people to participate in research at this time will put them under any additional unnecessary stress. 

Designing the Research

In designing the Virtual Churchill significant thought was given to both practical and ethical issues.

The primary research methodology of the Virtual Churchill of in person interviews using video conferencing  platforms. When planning and conducting the online interviews care was taken to incorporate the considerations listed below. The secondary methodology of document analysis was not as adversely impacted by the pandemic as all documents were accessed online.

Ethical Considerations

  • Organisations providing civics and court education programs have been adversely impacted by COVID-19
  • Many have lost of funding and staff numbers have been reduced due to furloughing or programs being cut
  • All staff are working from home and have caring responsibilities that may impact on interviews
  • Programs cancelled or delayed with the resultant impact on wellbeing of staff and workload
  • Many organisations have had to reconfigure programs for online delivery with short development and delivery timetables
  • Wellbeing of staff in organisations compromised due to months of lockdowns

Practical Considerations

  • Phone communication with organisations hampered by lockdowns
  • Email communication difficult as staff prioritising correspondence crucial to their role
  • Many staff not working due to being ‘furloughed’ until programs resume
  • Some organisations no longer open to research projects due to concern about cyber security and associated issues

Conducting the Interviews

All the interviews were conducted on Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Prior to each interview there was extensive email communication.

Once the date and time of the interview was agreed the following procedure was followed.

  • Video Conferencing Platform link and dial in information was sent – all interviews were scheduled to be one hour in duration
  • Focus Questions were emailed to each interviewee – these were designed to reflect the research focus on different types of program delivery
  • One day prior to the interview a reminder email was sent with the link and any other relevant information
  • The interviews were structured by allowing for a:
    • Short introductory summary – I would introduce myself and allow the interviewee to do the same
    • Brief outline of the focus of the interview
    • Discussion of the focus questions
    • Further discussion of a identified resource or program that would be adaptable to the Australian context
    • Closing remarks and discussion of any follow up
  • Most interviews required some kind of email follow up in the days following the discussion.