Diary studies are extremely helpful to observe behaviours over time and establish a contact with users prior to individual interviews. At the same time, filling a diary for multiple days often requires a high level of commitment, and the engagement can easily drop after a few entries affecting the outcomes of the overall study. How can we design diary studies that don't overwhelm research participants and keep them motivated for the entire duration of the activity?
Digital diaries give the opportunity to better design the activity by splitting the general task into smaller and more clear missions. The researcher would distribute one call to action at-a-time (every one or two days) and wait to collect all the data entries before sending the following mission. Apps like Dscout allow to easily tweak the diary format as needed, distribute the missions across a network of participants and centralize the collection of all the results (video, audio, photo, text,..) in a single place.
A digital diary can be distributed to a wider sample of participants, creating a collection of data that is larger than usual qualitative studies but still smaller than a real quantitative one, and that allows to effectively screen for the most interesting participants for a cycle of in-depth interviews in a second phase. The digital transfer of information can also enable an instant dialogue around certain data entries, as well as allow to broadcast messages that help to keep the participant motivated and engaged throughout the days of the diary.
Even if setting up a diary with a service like Dscout makes many tasks automatic, there are still parts of the process that need to be taken care of manually. A quick (5 minutes) phone call to each participant before the activity starts helps creating a connection and understanding their doubts or requests; reaching out at the end of the study is an important way to express appretiation and close the loop as well.