As a human geographer who collects survey and interview data from participants, being available to answer questions, clarify details, and connect with the community I’m working with is crucial. However, with any community work, lines can be blurred and connecting with the community can quickly become overwhelming if you’re socially available 24/7! A natural inclination is to offer a professional or even personal email address and phone number on distribution materials, only to realize this opens you up to 8 pm phone calls from participants, or worse – random phone calls and emails from non-participants scraping information from your eagerly posted internet flyers. You need a screening process that won’t overwhelm you, and ideally, it’s cheap/free, and easy to set up. Well, I have a recommendation, offered to me initially by Dr. Rebecca Shakespeare (who tested it for her dissertation work, and passed on all her hard-earned advice and knowledge to me) and backed by a community worker completing immigration work. This method is simple, low-cost, and honestly, everyone should do it:
A research study Google account.
When you create a Google account for your research study, you are claiming digital space for your project and all related internet-based material for it. Instead of your research-based emails scattered across your overloaded professional/personal inbox, they are curated all in one place. Google Drive for that account allows you a place to upload, create, and edit materials for the project, such as flyers or research logs. A research website can be create through Google Sites. One of my favorite tools though, is Google Voice. Set up a phone number for your study through the account, set it to forward to your personal phone, and voila! A phone number to put out onto the internet without concern for it spamming your phone mercilessly. Below, I have a created a short how-to and guide on setting up a Google account with the intention of using Google Voice:
- Pick an email address name that is short, clear, and easy to remember. While you may be tempted as I initially was, to fill your email address with abbreviations to keep it short, this is ultimately going to result in you asking people to remember and recite strings of letters. Thankfully, Dr. Shakespeare offered up the mundane “firstname.lastname@example.org.” It’s different enough to recall, but uses common enough words directly related to the topic of the project to keep it within the realm of “oh that makes sense.” Note: you may have to come up with a few different names, depending on if they are already taken.
- Set up a Google Chrome profile that you can open to that account only. This isn’t the same as being logged into Google Chrome on one account but being able to check different accounts. I’ve attached a picture below of what this may look like on your desktop:
The central account is my research project’s account. The one on the far left with the A is my professional Gmail account, while the one on the right is my personal account. By having these separate profiles available to open up entire Google Chrome browser windows in, I can avoid that nasty issue of switching between various Google Suite tools and accidentally opening and creating items in the wrong account. If you have no idea what I mean about how to create separate browser profiles, check out this handy guide here! (link: https://pureinfotech.com/add-new-user-profiles-google-chrome/ ). If you don’t use Google Chrome, consider picking a browser of your choice where the only Google account you are logged into on that browser is your research project’s account.
- Now, for Google Voice! When setting up a Google Voice account, a great tip that Dr. Shakespeare offered was to think of the area you are going to likely be collecting data in (this is the kind of thinking you get from geographers!!) and request a number in that general location. In my case, I was interested in the suburbs of Chicago, so I wanted an area code that would be familiar to anyone from the Chicago area. That’s how I ended up with a coveted 312 number! Be sure to follow the step-by-step instructions when trying to set up Google Voice, which will walk you through it. To start this process, start at voice.google.com.
- Connect your mobile phone number to the Google Voice number. This should be something that you have to do when you are setting up Google Voice initially, but it’s good to confirm by testing the number. Note: Google Voice calls are only free when they are from calls from within the U.S. Google Voice is free to sign up for. See rates for outside the U.S. at voice.google.com/rates.
- Attach your new project’s email and phone number to your messaging! Get that information out there and start connecting with your participants! While you may find yourself receiving emails to your project’s address, you may still find yourself using a professional account when reaching out to certain community insiders. For example, when I email community professionals, I send an email from my University of Illinois account, because I know that will be more viewed as more legitimate than a random Gmail account. A university email, if nothing else, gives recipients the opportunity to google the address and come up with a professional university-affiliated page, which lends credibility to your email. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make sure to CC all your outgoing emails with your project’s email address! This way, all emails are logged in your project’s email address, even if much of the responses are coming from another account.
- Set up a Google Voice voicemail recording. This way, if you miss a call, you can leave clear instructions for how to get attention or help.
Ideally, you follow this guide perfectly, and everything goes smoothly 😉 but if that doesn’t work out, I have advice for a problem that may crop up:
If you accidentally request the perfect Google Voice number under the wrong profile, never fear! You can transfer your Google Voice number to another Google account (aka, your project’s account)! Step-by-step instructions under the “transfer” section are available here (link: https://support.google.com/voice/answer/1065667#googlexfer ).
Thanks, and I look forward to hearing how it works out for you!