Since 2014 we have built over 60 research apps here in Dusseldorf, Germany for different national and international studies. Our clients are researchers from renowned universities (e.g. Freie Universität Berlin or University College London), big research institutes (e.g. Infratest or Kantar), impactful public institutions (e.g. German Institute for Economic Research or Statistics Netherlands) and world-leading corporates (e.g. Lufthansa or Amazon).
Over the past years, our work has shown that app-based research has some advantages in comparison to traditional methods such as Online Surveys, Phone Surveys or Paper-Pencil-Surveys, when the same participants are asked more than once at different points in time:
Most participants carry their smartphone with them and therefore they can answer surveys very easily. This allows timely responses and high response rates even for studies with multiple surveys per day for comparably low costs. Thus the method reduces potential recognition biases.
Push-Notifications allow communication to be fully anonymous and not just anonymized. Most people mistakenly think that when they allow an app to send them push-notifications that the app provider receives the person's phone number. Instead a random code is being generated from the device and shared with the app provider. Therefore an anonymous contact information is being shared which allows anonymous longitudinal data collections. This allows the data privacy gold standard of full anonymity in line for example with the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and thus reduces potential social desirability biases.
The many sensors in smartphones (e.g. GPS) allow data collection without any explicit participants' responses (= implicit data collection). This allows us to generate further insights and to validate the explicit survey data.
In sum research apps allow valid data collections to measure change for example in:
The App Research Framework was developed in 2014 and has since then been the basis for all of our research apps. We further develop it every day and have the following features available now. If there are any features you are missing for your study we are open to developing them for you.
For many studies it becomes more important to survey participants anonymously and not just anonymized. Anytime the same participants should be surveyed more than once at different points in time traditional methods such as Online Surveys, Phone Surveys or Paper-Pencil-Surveys have their limitations. Push-Notifications allow anonymous communication with participants without needing personal information. In combination with the allocation of a random participation code in the beginning of a study, the method allows anonymous longitudinal studies.
With an app participants can give anonymous feedback or ask questions about the study at any time.
With an app you can automatically reward participants anonymously (e.g. with Amazon vouchers). You define a criterion, e.g. a certain response rate that defines when a participant should be rewarded and when the participant hits this rate he gets a voucher code automatically. With the anonymous contact option we can inform participants about their reward.
With an app data on different biological markers can be collected. This can be done directly with the smartphone (e.g. activity, pulse, heart rate variability) but also with APIs to other tracking devices (e.g. Smart-Watches, Pulse Belts, etc.). Additionally, you can remind people about other measurements and have them enter their data in the app afterwards (e.g. cortisol, respiratory rate, etc.).
With the App Research Framework we can collect data on the following objective markers and more:
- Location, movement data (including speeds)
- Information for network use, such as signal strength
- Communication information (SMS, Calls)
- App-Usage data (e.g. which apps where used how long)
- Linkage of other objective data by APIs, Data entries, etc.
Participants can receive information at any time. This can be texts, pictures, audio-files, video-files or a mix of these media types. Thus you can send participants additional study information while the study is running without needing app-updates. Even complex intervention studies can be implemented like this.
To motivate participants the collected data can be displayed live for the participant. This can be done either during the data collection to increase awareness or afterwards to reduce biases. Additionally, comparisons to other participants can be calculated and displayed live using descriptive as well as inference statistics. The visualizations can be predefined before the study but also adapted during the study.
With an Online-Dashboard, that is adapted for every study, researchers can manage their study at any time. Participants, response rates and answers can be displayed individually or for the whole sample and further surveys, information or messages can be send any time individually or for the whole sample. The Online-Dashboard is only available for the project managers.
In the Online-Dashboard the collected data can be exported individually or for the whole sample. The export is predefined before the study but can be adapted during the study as well. Usually data can be exported for Excel, STATA, R and SPSS. If other data formats are necessary this is possible as well.
To collect representative data it is important that participants have different ways to participate. Therefore our apps always work on Android Devices (Smartphones and Tablets), iOS Devices (Smartphones and Tablets) and on Web Devices. When using a Web Device the anonymous contact option is not available as well as the collection of some implicit markers.
Participants may not always have a stable internet connection. Therefore it is important that they can participate offline as well. This allows all surveys to be answered on time and with high response rates even in complex studies. Even for additional surveys an internet connection is not necessary right away. The app updates itself once an internet connection is available.
Latest since the GDPR Data Privacy is important for every study. Most participants are also more critical today. To reduce potential social desirability biases it is important to explain participants their Data Privacy in detail. They want to understand why which questions are asked and where and how long the data is being stored and who will have access to it.
The Data Security Plan needs to be adapted and defined for every study. We offer own servers in Dusseldorf where only the two owners have access to, to ensure that the data is stored and saved in line with the GDPR. As an alternative we also offer to store the data on different servers without us having access to it.
Dr. Kai Ludwigs is a studied psychologist and economist. He and his team help you to plan your study in detail to ensure high data quality so that you are able to answer your research questions.
Stephan Erdtmann is a studied computer scientist (M.Sc). He develops the App Research Framework and builds and hosts your research app with his team.