game icon, camera icon and avatar icon

Enhancing Diary Research Methods

Gamification, photography, and social media.

Research methods using diaries or repeated self-reports have become increasingly common (Lida, M. Shrout, P. Laurenceau & J. Bolger, N., 2012, p. 277); they enable investigators to capture daily experiences in participants' own natural environments, they allow for a bottom-up examination of processes since it is developed in the participant's daily environment and they greatly reduce retrospective bias that is usually associated with usual surves design. However, they come with the following problems that I will examine in this paper and how this solutions can enhance the inclusivity of a particular study.

The following research portfolio will argue that gamification methods can increase a participant’s commitment to the study, that photography as a code can help with confidentiality and promote truthful responses, and that existing social media tools can replace invasive measurements set up by the researcher.

Gamification – Exploration Wave

Time-based design serves the purpose of investigating and collecting data over a period of time, the most common variables are fixed-intervals vs. variable-intervals, Long-intervals vs. short-intervals, and how long the study should be carried out for. While time-based design falls outside the scope of this paper it is important to highlight that from the perspective of the participant all of the intervals and scheduling can get confusing and daunting, which can decrease their commitment to the exercise or cause them simply to forget the steps that they must carry out. To resolve this problem, researchers have introduced signaling devices and some have been somewhat successful (lntille, S.S., Rondoni,J., Kukla, C., Anacona, I., & Bao, L., 2003); however, they increased the budget of the study to the point that it is not affordable or viable (Lida et al., 2012, p. 286). These signaling devices come with many drawbacks;, they increase the burden on participants if they have to carry a custom device, they can create a social stigma, and if the researcher triggers the timing of the intervals this may miss some of the more natural data that the participant can collect. From tangible signaling devices to intangible solutions, I propose the use of Gamification methods to reminded the participant without being too disruptive or creating an additional burden. A method called Exploration Wave can increase participants’ commitment and awareness of the importance of their prompt responses, this method can increase commitment of participants that require an incentive to perform the study correctly, hence making the engagement with the study more inclusive.

Gamification or gameful design is the application of game elements (point scoring, competition, milestones, etc) outside of games to encourage engagement with a product or service. Introducing a point system, or badges is an accurate but shallow way of looking at gamification, the idea is not to replicate the mechanics or visual aesthetics of a video game outside of the game context; the core of gamification is connecting and engaging the user with a service or product through playfulness and curiosity, and determining how to provide extrinsic motivation that can become intrinsic motivation.

Gamification proposes to replace real incentives with fictional ones in what they call an Exploration Wave. Curiosity is the pivot point in the Exploration Wave method; it is different from an incentive which is not meant to provide a tangible or useful product and is also slightly different than a reward in that you are not rewarded for your proficiency in the task (but in a way you are regarded for the participation so is borderline of a reward). An example to illustrate the concept of Exploration Wave can be following: imagine you enter a website and there is a button that you click and after the click it triggers a sound of an animal, while you weren't expecting this output you click it again and another animal sound goes off, after clicking numerous times you realize that there over dozens of different animals noises recorded, by exploring all the possible sounds you were kept engage in the action of clicking a button. How can this be useful with our diary research methods? Here are some examples: if it were a paper-and-pen report imagine how "curious" would it be if the paper in which the report is meant to be written and submitted has different size or texture, or each corner is cut differently, wouldn’t this make you wonder how other paper would be cut in the future reports? This would also be appealing for participants that lack of attention span or participants that relay on tactile information. Another example would be a study that is to be submitted online; a small animation (like Google doodles) that changes every time the participants will submit a report is displayed, this would be appreciated by short attention span individuals or participants that enjoy visual references. The idea is to place the participant in an exploration path that doesn't intrude on the assessment but creates a playfulness of curiosities that triggers a future engagement. While this can increase the budget of the study, it can also increase the commitment in the study and enhance the inclusive engagement.

It is important to customize this exploration wave method so it fits within the sample size and is aware of each of the participants’ needs. For example, sounds may not be useful for participants with no access to audio output or who have a hearing impairment, or visual cues will not be effective for people with visual impairments. However, the creativity of how we can customize using this exploration wave should match our participants and researchers.

Photography – Encrypted messages

Lida et al.,(2012, p. 282) explained how one of the problems with diary research methods is the confidentiality issue, in which the data can easily be seen by someone else, (for example, about a participant recording his/her partner’s behaviour) this trust issue can diminish a truthful response. Researchers have highlighted that there are multiple ways to increase the confidentiality factor; one of them is to collect the responses in shorter intervals (the problem with this solution is that the trust problem is still present and the only gain is that we have shortened window for breach in confidentiality. In addition, more frequent collection of the reports will often increase the burden on participants. Another solution was to deposit the responses in a safe environment (digital or physical) while this solution will solve the confidentiality problem it would require additional work from the participant and researcher to set up the safe environment and maintain it during the period of the study.

A solution I propose in this paper is the use of encrypted message without the need for additional training, or complex settings, or tools. Using photography as an encrypted message provides rich data, flexibility in responses and higher security in terms of confidentiality. While using a visual tool will exclude some individuals that lack of a visual cortex, on the other hand this method can be useful for participants that present difficulties in verbal and written communication, in this case they will relay in images and symbolism to better express themselves.

The idea of using photography as an encrypted message has its bases in creating visual codes available only to the participant and the researcher. For example, if there is a research project in which participants report on how their partner's mood changes in the course of time, then the participant and researcher can establish a visual encrypted vocabulary (colors, shapes, objects) that are associated with a mood or category of the study. For example a photograph of a bright sun or yellow flower can be represented with joyful and happy, while a glass of water or ice cube could represent sad and unstable. The gain of the photograph as an encrypted message is that it can provide more than a binary answer to a category, if the researcher understands that ice cubes are code for a specific mood, then the participant can be creative in how it portraits the ice cube(s), for example a photograph with 1 ice cube in comparison with a photograph of 6 ice cubes can help contextualize the difference in mood without risking being too descriptive, Fingers can also be used when there is a lack of materials in hand. Participants can create rich data photograph by using their imagination and a shared code with the researcher. Digital cameras can be set to record day and time of day in which the photo was recorded, this will help the researchers to be more secure of the accuracy of the participant in terms of schedule and timing of their responses, in some cases and depending on the camera’s technology GPS location can be active to be recorded with the photos. This information mitigates other risks with time diaries noted by Lida et al., (2012, p. 284); participant errors in schedule accuracy and the location.

Additional set of security measurement is the use of disposable cameras, in which the cameras don't have the capability of playback most of these disposable cameras uses special methods of development that are not commonly found in every households. While providing disposable cameras can increase the budget of the study and increase the burden of the participant, it can be offset by the speed, flexibility and security the participant will report each of its responses.

The disadvantage of this proposal from an inclusive design perspective is that participants not familiar with analogue cameras or cellphone cameras will have to undergo training. Visually impaired people would not find this method appealing or useful. However the concept can be recreated with sounds or written text. In addition I mentioned that creativity and imagination could help enhance the meaning of the encrypted message, individuals that think in a less expressive way especially visually would have a hard time during the assignment. Where this method does excel is where research studies and report proves to be sensitive and the participant understands and embraces the art of photography as a descriptive message.

Social Media – Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter

There is the conundrum of the invasive measurements that is set up by the researchers so the participant can submit and record their reports. Diary research methods, in theory, it provides you the insight of the participant being able to record events or experiences in his/her own natural environment. However, researchers need to record this data and measurements for this can be invasive and could in some cases disrupt the data. For example, the use of phone calls from research assistance to call participants can disrupt the normality of the participant's environment; the use of gadgets for recording (microphones, cameras, trackers); or the need to carry specific materials (pen-and-paper, journal or a predetermine schedule). Researchers wonder (Almeida, D.M., 2005) how much impact on the data these invasive measurements could have; it seems to be a problem taken from quantum mechanics where particles behave differently when they are observed in comparison to when they are not.

My proposed method focuses on what the participants already do and have at their disposal to gather data, actions that already take place and are completely normal for the participant and the participant’s environment.

Social media has evolved in the past decade and technology has helped shape it. People share images, events, thoughts, self-report their achievements, failures, moods, daily occurrences, etc. most of these activity reports happen through mobile applications that have the support of a versatile hardware; mobile phones nowadays carry powerful cameras, video recording and editing software, voice recording and audio recording tools, GPS and directional trackers. A mobile phone can replace any invasive measurement that is set up by the researcher, because people already have phones and already use them in a particular way that researchers can take advantage off. Instagram, a social media application has 500 million monthly active users (, 2016), they create visual messages based on photos or visual references mostly used for locations, environment, experiences or food; Snapchat enjoys 150 million active users (, 2016) and on average those users spend 110 minutes a day on the app! (Richter, F., 2016) In Snapchat, users share images that are explicitly short-lived and self-deleting, which encourage silliness and emphasize a more natural interaction. Society is becoming familiar with the human behaviour or interactions associated with social media; in todays’ technological society, it is normal for someone to take a cellphone photo of his or her next meal or someone to record a voice message in the subway or video record a live concert. Society has become more accepting to social media and the technology that comes with it.

My proposal is for researchers to design measurement tools that emulate already existing social media platforms so users don't feel a difference in interacting or recording their reports, in addition, society will not see this self-reporting or assessment as invasive. While privacy and security could be concern specially if 3rd parties like Facebook or Instagram are involved, a custom application or platform could be designed with higher level of security to be used for the study only. The participants “circle of friends” are the researchers, where the researcher can communicate with the participants in a safe and environment and they can share their report or submission to them. For example a research study that asks the user to reports their daily meals, while a participants would be reluctant to bring with him pen-and-paper to all theirs meals and specially write a report of what they he is going to eat, he may find that snapping a picture with some small description would be more entertaining and ideal, this behaviour is being more normalize as technology in social media improves and reaches more people. This would create a more inclusive approach to data collection that removes some of the stigma associate with it and would encourage people that are already social media savvy to participate in studies.

Any active social media users would be the perfect participants for this diary research method, teenagers, younger adults and adults can also be interested in this method, in the contrary, less technological savvy users like seniors or people with no interest in technology, or low income individuals that lack a smartphone with the required specifications for the study would have more difficulty becoming familiar with an exercise and it would in fact be more of an invasive measurement.


Gamification methods like Exploration Wave can increase participant’s commitment to the study. They can also use together with social media tools, just as social media platforms can benefit from photography as encrypted messages, all this suggestions can enhance diary research methods by increasing commitment, security and flexibility on submissions of reports and decreasing the invasiveness measurements. In the future, it is possible that researchers will use diary studies using gamification; photography as a code and social media as a supplement to their experimental designs and while they do limited to the number and type of participants it does engage and encourage other set of participants.


Almeida, D. M. (2005). Resilience and vulnerability to daily stressors assessed via diary methods. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14(2), 64-68. doi: 10. l l l l/j.0963-7214.2005.00336.x

lntille, S.S., Rondoni,J., Kukla, C., Anacona, I., & Bao, L. (2003, April). A context-aware experience sampling tool. Paper presented at the CHI '03 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Fort Lauderdale, FL.

Lida, M. Shrout, P. Laurenceau & J. Bolger, N. (2012). Chapter 15: Using Dairy Methods in Psychological Research. In Cooper, H. (Ed.) APA handbook of research methods in psychology, (Vol. 1) (pp. 277–305) Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Number of monthly active Twitter users worldwide from 1st quarter 2010 to 3rd quarter 2016 (in millions) (2016). Retrieve from

Number of daily active Snapchat users from March 2014 to June 2016 (in millions). (2016). Retrieve from

Number of monthly active Instagram users from January 2013 to June 2016 (in millions). (2016). Retrieve from

Richter, F. (2016, May 27) Why Snapchat Is Worth Billions. Retrieve from

Felipe Sarmiento | OCAD University, Master of Inclusive Design | 27 Nov, 2016