Using the evidence: The benefits of passive data collection and e-memory for qualitative research

Robert Cook

Introduction

Advances in technology have been the central driving force in creating the information age in which we now live. The ability of devices and systems to capture, file, store, sort and retrieve information has provided us with new ways to consider the world – and in particular the attitudes and behaviour of the people that live in it. This rise of big data is having a significant impact in many different areas of life – from the way that businesses go about developing strategy through to changing the role and responsibilities of the research industry and its clients. While these are clearly very important issues to consider, this paper will focus not on big data, but on passive data and e-memory.

One way in which technology is currently creating a positive change for the qualitative research industry is the potential shift in role and responsibilities of the subjects of research. Traditionally we would need people to witness, record and accurately recall the important thoughts, events and behaviours in their lives. This 'work' on their part always had the potential to create a distorted view of reality due to a variety of technical limitations and biases that are present in the most recent version of homo sapiens. People simply do not have the ability to remember what we ask them to remember – or the ability or inclination to report it accurately when asked to do so. As a result, our understanding of the world can be limited by our qualitative methodology.