How to Gain Access: Connecting to Hard-to-Reach Participants Online

Abstract

When we reflect about gaining access to research participants in online environments, overarching questions soon arise: Who is involved in creating research? What role do participants play and how do we even identify them online? How are technologies part of gaining access and generating knowledge? In answering these questions, this guide places particular emphasis on the phase of access in our online research. Access is a powerful entry point to empirical research as it defines the major directions of the project. More specifically, the guide develops the argument that access is not just a methodical choice taken by the researcher, but participants, their mediated rites and rituals, their trust in technologies, and the online tools themselves are part of creating access and research outcomes. The How-to Guide will take the reader through these aspects step-by-step; it explains the notion of hard-to-reach and what it implies about our methodological choices. It offers a broad reading of access that includes the techniques and technologies we use to do research, which gives readers concrete points to reflect on. Building on these two positions, the guide discusses what gaining access then implies and invites researchers to map, plan, and conduct their online research with the agencies of participants, techniques, and tools in mind. All these arguments and points of guidance are illustrated using an example of doing research online with a group that can be hard-to-reach: hackers.

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