Background: Large-scale primary data collections are complex, costly, and time-consuming. Study protocols for trial-based research are now commonplace, with a growing number of similar pieces of work being published on observational research. However, useful additions to the literature base are publications that describe the issues and challenges faced while conducting observational studies. These can provide researchers with insightful knowledge that can inform funding proposals or project development work. Objectives: In this study, we identify and reflectively discuss the unforeseen or often unpublished issues associated with organizing and implementing a large-scale objectively measured physical activity and global positioning system (GPS) data collection. Methods: The SPACES (Studying Physical Activity in Children's Environments across Scotland) study was designed to collect objectively measured physical activity and GPS data from 10- to 11-year-old children across Scotland, using a postal delivery method. The 3 main phases of the project (recruitment, delivery of project materials, and data collection and processing) are described within a 2-stage framework: (1) intended design and (2) implementation of the intended design. Results: Unanticipated challenges arose, which influenced the data collection process; these encompass four main impact categories: (1) cost, budget, and funding; (2) project timeline; (3) participation and engagement; and (4) data challenges. The main unforeseen issues that impacted our timeline included the informed consent process for children under the age of 18 years; the use of, and coordination with, the postal service to deliver study information and equipment; and the variability associated with when participants began data collection and the time taken to send devices and consent forms back (1-12 months). Unanticipated budgetary issues included the identification of some study materials (AC power adapter) not fitting through letterboxes, as well as the employment of fieldworkers to increase recruitment and the return of consent forms. Finally, we encountered data issues when processing physical activity and GPS data that had been initiated across daylight saving time. Conclusions: We present learning points and recommendations that may benefit future studies of similar methodology in their early stages of development.
McCrorie, P., Walker, D., & Ellaway, A. (2018, April 1). The unanticipated challenges associated with implementing an observational study protocol in a large-scale physical activity and global positioning system data collection. Journal of Medical Internet Research. Journal of Medical Internet Research. https://doi.org/10.2196/resprot.9537