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McInnes DK, Dunlap S, Fix GM, Foster MV, Conti J, Roncarati JS, Hyde JK. Longitudinal high-frequency ethnographic interviewing to simulate and prepare for intensive smartphone data collection among veterans with homeless experience. Frontiers in digital health. 2022 Aug 12; 4:897288.
OBJECTIVE: While Veteran homelessness has steadily declined over the last decade, those who continue to be unhoused have complex health and social concerns. Housing instability interferes with access to healthcare, social services, and treatment adherence. Preventing unwanted housing transitions is a public health priority. This study is the first phase of a larger research agenda that aims to test the acceptability and feasibility of smartphone-enabled data collection with veterans experiencing homelessness. In preparation for the development of the smartphone data collection application, we utilized ethnographic methods guided by user-centered design principles to inform survey content, approach to recruitment and enrollment, and design decisions. METHODS: We used a case study design, selecting a small sample ( = 10) of veterans representing a range of homelessness experiences based on risk and length of time. Participants were interviewed up to 14 times over a 4-week period, using a combination of qualitative methods. Additionally, 2 focus group discussions were conducted. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed. Data were synthesized and triangulated through use of rapid analysis techniques. RESULTS: All participants had experience using smartphones and all but one owned one at the time of enrollment. Participants described their smartphones as "lifelines" to social network members, healthcare, and social service providers. Social relationships, physical and mental health, substance use, income, and housing environment were identified as being directly and indirectly related to transitions in housing. Over the course of ~30 days of engagement with participants, the research team observed dynamic fluctuations in emotional states, relationships, and utilization of services. These fluctuations could set off a chain of events that were observed to both help participants transition into more stable housing or lead to setbacks and further increase vulnerability and instability. In addition to informing the content of survey questions that will be programmed into the smartphone app, participants also provided a broad range of recommendations for how to approach recruitment and enrollment in the future study and design features that are important to consider for veterans with a range of physical abilities, concerns with trust and privacy, and vulnerability to loss or damage of smartphones. CONCLUSION: The ethnographic approach guided by a user-centered design framework provided valuable data to inform our future smartphone data collection effort. Data were critical to understanding aspects of day-to-day life that important to content development, app design, and approach to data collection.