Doing Fieldwork During COVID-19 Panel

On 21 October 2021, a panel of researchers from multiple disciplines discussed Doing fieldwork during COVID-19, which offers different approaches to research adjustment and data collection. The panelists told us about their various research experiences and shared lessons they learned during the pandemic period. This panel was co-hosted by the Centre for Contemporary Chinese Studies and the Chinese Studies Research Group at the University of Melbourne.Panelists included: Zihong Deng, Simon Christie, Anthony H. F. Li, and Xin Zi.

Zihong Deng 

Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Email:

Doing fieldwork with left-behind children, migrant children and their caregivers and parents in China during the COVID-19 pandemic 

My fieldwork was proposed to be completed in 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions between China and Australia, I could not return to China as planned. Then my research proposal has been changed from a qualitative study to a mixed-methods study including a systematic review, a quantitative sub-study, and a qualitative sub-study. I finally returned to China in 2021 and have been doing my fieldwork in Chongqing and Jiangsu after finishing the hotel and home quarantine. During my fieldwork in Jiangsu, there was a new round of pandemic, and my plan had to be changed again.

In this presentation, I reflected on the influence of pandemic on me and my research, the interviews with children, parents, and caregivers, and issues in the ethics application. I modified the research proposal by narrowing down the qualitative sub-study. Many of the interview were conducted online after 6pm due to parents’ work time. Online interviews are convenient and safe for me as I do not need to go out during the night…

Zihong's presentation slide

Simon Christie 

Asia Institute, University of Melbourne, Email:

Conducting linguistic fieldwork post-COVID 

Linguistic fieldwork most commonly involves the collection of spoken language data and its translation and transcription into a common language for later analysis and description. In 2018, this researcher embarked upon the collection data from the southern dialect of Bai, a Tibeto-Burman language spoken mostly in and around Dali, Yunnan. Unfortunately, due to the outbreak of COVID-19, many of these transcripts were unable to be translated in person into Mandarin and many gaps in the data needed to be further explored.

This presentation used real-life examples from the researcher’s post-COVID fieldwork to illustrate new methods for obtaining linguistic data: doing interviews over WeChat, using Bluetooth and digital recording devices. In addition, this presentation outlined the benefits and shortcomings of conducting language elicitation online using technology. Advantages are being able to collect data; cheap; dependable substitutes for face-to-face interviews, while pitfalls include not being reliable for phonetic data and missed opportunities…

Simon's presentation slide

Anthony H. F. Li

Politics and Public Administration, University of Hong Kong, Email:

Collecting data across the Taiwan Strait: doing research in Hong Kong during the Covid pandemic

Covid has made fieldwork a huge challenge with the travel restrictions. It is especially true for research designs and epistemologies which solidly ground the validity of research on fieldwork as an approach. Other means of contact with persons in the field and data collection need to be utilized as much as possible. Based on my research experience during the pandemic, I hope to share what I have done to continue my research on case studies in Taiwan from Hong Kong as part of PhD dissertation which leads to a conference paper titled “Urban co-production, Intermediate Organizations and Entrepreneurship: Community Solar Energy in Taiwan”, and to provide reflections on the data collection process embodied with trials and errors.

My main strategies were planned to be interviews, focus group discussions, and participatory observations with multiple stakeholders. After preliminary fieldwork in Nov 2019, I can no longer return to Taiwan for more in-depth fieldwork. So, I resort to other types of methods to continue my research amidst the Covid-19. I have come up with contingency plans to collect data: 1) utilizing online resources: an intensive search for information about locales; digging out information with field notes. 2) identify academic centers which conducting similar research: check out their published articles; reach out to related academics. 3) contacting those I know from the pre-trip for possible follow-ups. I also found limitations of doing interviews through email: 1) data collected this way can be quite biased: not many are willing to help a person whom they never meet in person. 2) sensitive data are even harder to be collected…

Anthony's presentation slide

Xin Zi 

School of Geography, University of Melbourne, Email:

Entry channels and relationship expansion for fieldwork during the epidemic

During the epidemic, strict blockade measures are likely to cut off researchers’ access to community research. Conventional entry methods such as private contact are still partially effective. But, in the case of failure of conventional entry methods, dialogue with the staff of the epidemic prevention site can be initiated and establishing initial contact them would be a possible way to open up the situation. Also, trapped in quarantine measures, researchers may not be able to conduct research face-to-face with privately contacted research subjects. In this case, contact the relevant departments of the local government, start conversations with the leaders of relevant government departments, and rely on his social relations to carry out community research, this kind of top-down community research thinking is also an option.

As I am personally in China, I took a window of opportunity to do pre-fieldwork and then plan to return to the field when travel restrictions are removed. I chose to drive a car by myself to the study area as it is more flexible than taking public transportation and some local public transport vehicles are no longer in operation due to Covid-19 or are very strict for passengers from other cities. There were some epidemic prevention checkpoints which set up in the small village roads, at the entry of the village, to check the strangers. I communicated with staff on epidemic prevention checkpoints first: making self-introduction; sharing small gifts such as a bottle of water; communicating with younger staff. I also contacted local officials and got the chance to interview other officials through his relationship…

Xin's presentation slide

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