Ormax Compass / Research World  / When life gives you lemons…

When life gives you lemons…

Who knew that the lemons of 2020 would leave us wondering how to make lemonade and grappling with the unknown on so many different fronts? I, for one, did not!

As some businesses (i.e. travel and food) have come to a grinding halt in light of the global pandemic, and the future is suddenly less certain, it is more essential than ever to have an adaptive and growth mindset. But twisted times call for twisted measures! We have to pivot even more than we normally would and prove to our clients that research CAN and WILL go on.

To continue with business as usual, many are going the digital route. But for a traditional Qualitative researcher, digital, for the better part, has been looked upon as the evil stepsister of F2F research.

To add fuel to the fire, the few clients willing to spend on research at this time, are apprehensive. A client of ours was hesitant to get an ad tested because he was not sure of the results. A post on LinkedIn, in May, enquiring about the online Qual experience led the MRSI to host a webinar on the Qual playbook.

  1. Qualitative research to most of our clients means a F2F interaction with consumers. Are online group discussions an equal substitute?
  2. Could interacting with participants over a video call compromise the quality of the data and the outcome of the research?
  3. Would they be getting their money’s worth?

But we are in the business of human behaviour. As more researchers take Qual digital, some are realizing that it is a world apart from F2F research.

In the past, we have adopted aspects of digital as a research tool, to understand consumer behaviour and opinions, however, it is quite different using telephonic interactions and visual technology for group discussions.

The obvious pros of digital Qual are convenience, cost-effectiveness, time-saving and lockdown-friendly. That said, it is a little more complicated than we expected it to be.

Many extra layers go into preparing for video conferencing groups. Are participants familiar with the required technology? Do they know how to dial in? Are they apprehensive about using the platform? Do they have adequate wi-fi?

To most people screens mean entertainment, but at the same time, the screen is distinctly separate from themselves. So, how do we draw our participants in? Actors connect with their audience without being F2F; perhaps we could adapt some of their techniques. It would also be important for Qual researchers to sensitize and train themselves to tune into voice, tone, body language and build empathy in our dialogue with the participants.

Here are a few pointers that I’ve found helpful:

  1. Setting- Participant comfort is important, but too much comfort and general distractions can lead to a passive attitude. Insist on as much privacy as possible and as few distractions as they can manage – especially given the fact that they are in a home setting. Participants need to understand that the setting may be casual but the purpose is serious. This can be done at the time of the recruitment process.
  2. Planning- A digital group discussion can quickly come apart at the seams, with participants ending up doing their own thing. Participants are not going to put in effort unless the moderator can make it engaging for them. Thinking ahead, and planning how to make your digital group discussions more engaging for the participants, is critical. It makes it more interesting, fun, informative and has a positive effect on participant-moderator interaction.
  3. Inclusion- Since the researcher is not physically present, they have to work doubly hard to get participants to open up and feel included. Group discussions are dynamic, but delicate ecosystems, where participants react to and interact with one another’s input, body language, visual and aural cues. On a video platform, visual cues are much harder to come by. What comes naturally to most researchers seems much harder to do. For example, I find myself leaning into the screen as I would normally do to show participants that I was interested in what they were saying and listening very hard to decode speech, hesitations and thoughtfulness.

Addressing the whole group at one time does not generally work to keep the participants engaged. Engagement can be maximized by making each participant feel a part of the group and addressing each participant directly while including the others in the conversation. This leads to cooperation between the individual and the group.

On the whole, digital groups do require sharpening a host of new skills. My dilemma is whether it will ever be an equally effective substitute for meeting humans F2F to understand them. This remains to be seen. If this is the new normal, we shall have to refine and streamline our techniques, so we do not miss out on the nuances that make Qualitative research a rich source of consumer information.

So, what do we do with the lemons that 2020 has given us? Make the most of it and move on! This is our chance to life-proof our research techniques and methodologies and add them to our arsenal. It will no doubt take time, collaboration and knowledge sharing within the research community. But as we look to the future of research, we look to embrace an exciting and ever-changing landscape because as Heraclitus said, “the only constant in life is change.”

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