Annual Conference Reporter on the Scene: Opening Closed Doors with Role Play
Although immersive ethnographic research is the gold standard for gathering real-world insights, there are situations when financial, regulatory, logistical, privacy, and ethical constraints make such contextual research extremely challenging, if not altogether unfeasible. Luckily, as Elizabeth George shared with attendees at the 2019 QRCA Annual Conference, role play is a fantastic alternative research method that can allow us to learn a lot about the nuanced conversations that occur “behind closed doors”.
By pairing a respondent immersed in a scenario with an actor who engages with the respondent to simulate a real-world situation, we can begin to better understand the natural language used and interactions characteristic of dialogue around a given product or topic. We can also gain deeper insight into the dynamics of complex decision-making, such as how potential customers may react to two different sales pitches. These insights are especially helpful in developing messaging strategy, educational content that addresses gaps in awareness, as well as gauging receptiveness to specific ideas or approaches.
- When to use it: Role play research can be especially helpful when attempting to glean nuanced information from stakeholders in industries that are highly-regulated, prohibitively-costly, or ethically-challenging.
- The process: There are several steps to the process of conducting role play research, namely: identifying the research objectives and scenario of interest, determining appropriate roles and recruiting actors for them, creating profiles and guidance for your actors and respondents, “setting the scene” for respondents and observing interactions play out, and finally debriefing both parties.
- Valuable outcomes: Content and messaging strategy development is often a key outcome of such research, along with a better understanding of receptiveness (or lack thereof) to certain products or approaches.
Putting it into practice:
The next time I work with a client in the financial or healthcare space or am struggling to get “behind a closed door” of any sort for immersive research, I will keep this invaluable tool in my back pocket as a high-quality alternative approach.
- Especially in salesperson-prospect and physician-patient scenarios, respondents often are able to act relatively natural despite being in a simulated setting with an actor because they tend to be accustomed to using role play when they are first being trained.
- Using the physical space to your advantage, by walking the respondent over to the actor (and conducting setup and debriefs in a different space), can help limit the influence of the environment being simulated vs. real for the respondent.
- Role play research can be a fantastic way to validate personas that you have already created, especially if they were proto-personas largely based on assumptions.
Liz was an absolutely fantastic presenter—engaging, knowledgeable, and able to explain her process in digestible and relatable terms—and this research method is a great one to add to our expanding toolkit.
QRCA Reporter on the Scene: