Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Smartphone Qualitative *But Were Afraid to Ask

The Over the Shoulder team has spent the better part of a decade building and honing the Over the Shoulder smartphone qualitative platform and helping qualitative research moderators & practitioners use it to do industry-leading insight work.

Along the way, we’ve fielded a lot of questions that qual practitioners wonder about.

So, we decided to start posting common questions and answers to them as a resource for everyone who wants to learn about smartphone qualitative, understand their options, and be inspired by the opportunities.

Please feel free to build, comment or post additional questions. We’ll try to update this blog at least weekly. We hope you’ll find it helpful and inspiring! 

- The Over the Shoulder team.


Can I use smartphone qualitative as part of a project that includes other methodologies like focus groups or live virtual interviews?




Hybrid project designs are powerful, and there are lots of ways to use smartphone qualitative in combination with other qualitative and quantitative methods. A few examples include:

Smartphone qualitative prior live sessions (in home, in facility, virtual, etc.). You might start your project with 60 participants doing a week of smartphone qualitative where they do things like share their home life, work life, usage occasions, or even visit a store to purchase and try a product. Participants submit assignments throughout the week, and you can review their video submissions, then select the best, most representative 20 participants to schedule live sessions with. It’s an amazing design that lets you get in-the-moment insight from 60 people, review and think through their submissions and be prepared to “go deep” in your live sessions. You can even show participants things they’ve submitted in the moment to spur their recall and lead to deep exploration in person.

Smartphone qualitative follow-ups to live sessions. Schedule traditional focus groups, then send your participants out of your live sessions to:

  • Gather in-the-moment insights through the Over the Shoulder app.
  • Send them on “buy & try” missions, where they'll locate and purchase specific products in their local retailer (or purchase them online), try them out in their home, and complete assignments that let you see everything from their in-store experience, purchase experience, and the moment they prepared and used the product in real0life situations.
  • Have them journal key moments based on your live discussion.
  • Send individual follow-up questions to participants based on what they've talked about in your live sessions.
  • Send a few questions that participants might have been too worn out or socially constrained from giving you an answer in your group sessions.

You can even select the best participants in your focus groups/interviews and invite only them to do a smartphone-based follow-up study. We’re happy to help make it all come off smoothly.

Add smartphone-based pre-work/homework to your live sessions. It’s easy to have your participants start your project with smartphone-based homework that they’ll complete before they come to your live sessions. Have them journal their snacking behavior, buy and try a few products, or have them share their personal story before you meet them face-to-face.

There are plenty more great ways to combine methodologies to get more insight and compelling “ripped from real-life” media to help tell a compelling story. As always, we’re happy to hear your ideas for hybrid projects and help you find a great design to deliver your objectives.


How should I be thinking about timelines for my smartphone qualitative project? How long does recruiting take? How long should I leave for the project design & project programming process?


We’ll always do our utmost to meet your timelines regardless of the circumstances. That said, here are some guidelines on timelines:

3 weeks is ideal.  3 weeks from commissioning your project to the start of your fieldwork gives you enough time for just about any recruit, it allows plenty of time to come up with a great design, get input from your clients throughout the process, and it gives OTS ample time to get your study programmed, tested and ready for the field. The 3-week timeline gives everyone involved enough time to thoroughly and meticulously think through your project and not feel rushed.

2 weeks is comfortable as long as your recruit is standard.

1 week is doable if you can get input and approvals on your design quickly and your recruit is not too challenging.

Some studies can be put together and recruited in less than a week, but it’s probably going to feel rushed.

The big driver of your timeline is usually how long it will take to do your recruit. While a small study (20-30 participants) with wide recruiting specs can often be recruited in just a few days, highly specialized recruits can take a few weeks or more.

Designing a typical project usually takes about a week including reviews, approvals and adjustments.

Programming and testing a project is easy to do 72 hours. Shorter is usually possible, and we’ll always accommodate you if we can.


Does Over the Shoulder have a panel? Why?


Over the Shoulder does not have a panel. There are a few reasons. 

First, we committed early to building an open platform that can easily bring in participants from any source so that you have full flexibility to work with any panel provider, recruiting resource and lots of other recruiting approaches. Our mission is to help you do great smartphone qualitative, not sell you our panel.

Second, most of our clients need specialized recruits for their projects. We’ve learned through the years that “pre-recruited” smartphone panels just don’t have enough members to allow you to get good participants if you need specific age groups, regions, product usage specs or other recruiting requirements.

Third, most pre-recruited smartphone panels have real issues with participant quality, professional respondents and security.

Fourth, we respect and rely on our many recruiting partners, and having our own panel would put us in conflict with them.

Bottom line, every Over the Shoulder project gets a fresh, carefully screened, managed sample of exactly the participants you need. It takes a little longer and costs a little more, but experience has taught us that it gets you far better results and far fewer hassles.


Can Over the Shoulder do my recruiting for me?



Over the Shoulder has partnerships with recruiters that we can work with to get you high-quality, engaged participants for your project. We know which recruiters we can rely on to get exactly the right people into your project as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. If you’d like, we’ll even manage the process, write your recruitment screener, interact with your recruiter on your behalf to replace dropouts and include recruiting & incentives one simple invoice for you.

On the other hand, if you have a recruiting partner you love and you’d like to work with, that’s great too!  We’re happy to work with them to make your project go smoothly. We have support materials at the ready to help any recruiter be a great smartphone qual recruiter, and your Over the Shoulder project team will happily interact with any recruiting partner you choose to make your project successful.

And, if you have a panel of participants already, we can easily onboard them into your Over the Shoulder project.


I know my objectives and my insight needs, but I’m not sure that I can (or want to) figure out how to design a smartphone qualitative project. Can Over the Shoulder help me with that?


Of course! Over the Shoulder is proud to employ the best smartphone project designers in the business. Our average project designer has 6.5 years of experience designing smartphone qualitative (not bad considering smartphone qualitative has only been around for about 9 years!) and hundreds of projects under their belt.

We offer design support at three levels:

  1. Full Project Design

    It’s the easy way to a killer design. You start by sharing your objectives, insight needs and ideas for your project with your Project Designer. Your Project Designer carefully listens to what you’re trying to learn, and puts together an outline of how to answer your objectives, applying everything they know about the Over the Shoulder system, and proposes an outline for your design. You review it, shape it, add your thoughts and ideas, and when you love the outline, your Project Designer drafts a question-by-question, prompt-by-prompt smartphone discussion guide for you. Review it, get feedback and approvals, and presto…you have a great design every time.
  2. Design Assistance and Review

    Want to have more control and save some money? No problem. We’ll assign you a Project Designer who can run you through the basics, give you some ideas and send you off with our easy-to-use project-building template. You write up your smartphone discussion guide exactly how you want it. Your Project Designer is there to support you, and will review your project to give you any final suggestions and make sure it makes the most out of the platform.
  3. Design-it-yourself

    If you’re comfortable with the Over the Shoulder platform and smartphone qual design, you can draft up your project in our easy-to-use template.


Does Over the Shoulder do analysis, presentation building or do projects directly forend clients?


No. Over the Shoulder is here to support qual practitioners, not to compete with them.

Early in our history, we used our own platform and provided analysis and reporting to end clients.

Now, we focus on developing the world’s best smartphone qual platform and teaching practitioners how to use it. 

We don’t do analysis, but we’ll provide you with the tools and training to do it yourself. We don’t write reports or give presentations to end clients, but we’re happy to help you look like a rockstar.

That keeps us plenty busy, and ensures that the quallies we support never have to worry about us competing with them for projects. Seems fair to us.