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Catching a COVID Curveball


When the pandemic of 2020 hit, a colleague noted that Futures Research was COVID-proof because all our work processes are online and conducted remotely. How true and fortunate for us, and how interesting it's been to watch how other organizations and individuals respond. The pandemic has changed nearly everything for everyone, everywhere, and all at once. It will be interesting to watch how long-lasting these changes will be.

While relatively COVID-proof, the pandemic forced Futures Research to change our data capture system, and it was a heavy lift.

As recent as last summer (2020), all Futures Research interviews were conducted by phone. Our phone-based interviewing system was a major upgrade from previous protocol. Before 2010, we conducted nearly every interview in-person. Our phone-based technique was elaborate, stable, and effective. We used high-quality VoIP connections that enabled channelized recording and near-time transcription. We had specialized audio capture equipment and used Artificial Intelligence to evaluate content, tone, and syntax. 

What happened next we did not anticipate, but it was completely foreseeable. As the pandemic forced most things online, our clients began doing most everything by video conference. Increasingly, they expected our interviews to be done that way, too. Seemingly overnight, our phone-based interview system became obsolete.

The thought of rebuilding a new data-capture system was overwhelming. However, the facts were clear: 1) clients are asking for it, 2) video offers many advantages, and 3) change was inevitable. Conveniently, the pandemic coincided with the emergence of a number of inexpensive, high quality, and full featured video conferencing services. Rather quickly we chose our platform began integrating their APIs into our workflow. It took an effort, it disrupted things, but the pay off has been (and will be) significant.  We've joined the millions and we now conduct virtually every interaction virtually.

The COVID pandemic threw us a curveball. We caught it (not the virus) and we like it. For Futures Research, video conferencing is here to stay, it appears to be a long-lasting COVID-inspired change. We now include this curveball question in some projects: What curveballs did your group catch and keep from COVID?