Looking Back – A Year of Change in the World of Qualitative
By: Tom Rich
At this time in the new year, it feels right to look back and see what seems to be different. It certainly has been a time of change in the world of qualitative research. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks communicating with some qualitative luminaries to get their perspectives on developing trends over the past year. Based on those conversations, I think a number of key developments are worthy of mention.
The Tool Bag is Growing
The continued expansion of the tools available for qualitative research is profoundly changing what qualitative is, and how it’s done. A dizzying array of tools and resources can be applied to qualitative. The online research platforms continue to grow in both features and sophistication, use of AI-based tools is growing, video editing software has become easier to use, and biometric tools continue to grow more affordable and user friendly. As a result, we can now provide insights to clients that are based upon more than mere conversation—we can bring multiple data sources to bear on our analysis.
The Lines are Blurring
As more tools become available, and as they become increasingly affordable and user friendly, clients are increasingly interested in mixed method studies. This doesn’t just mean qual/quant approaches; it’s no longer acceptable for qualitative practitioners to say, “I don’t do quant.” It means a greater merging of online and face-to-face approaches as well, as UX and more traditional qualitative studies are starting to look very similar.
Agility is the Word of the Moment
Clients are demanding compressed timetables. Practitioners are increasingly completing research in four or five business days. Also, clients’ priorities seem to be changing. Whereas the question used to be, “what will it take to get exactly the information we need?”, it now seems to be, “we have a week—what can we learn in that time?”. As a result, new approaches to recruiting and fieldwork are becoming more common.
Qualitative Approaches Are Becoming More Important to Understanding Big Data
Research users continue to see the value in using qualitative tools to understand all the data they have available. More and more seem to understand that there is a big difference between information and wisdom, and that actually talking to people–while it doesn’t yield quantifiable information–provides a level of detail and insight that can be acquired no other way.
If you feel like the ground is shifting beneath your feet, you’re not wrong. Whether you’re a researcher or a research user, staying current on new tools, techniques, and priorities is essential to survival and success.
I’d like to extend my thanks to these qualitative luminaries for their perspective on developing trends: David Bauer, Jim Kulevich, Abby Leafe, Joanna Patterson, Steve Schlesinger, and Manny Schrager.
Since founding his business, Thomas M. Rich & Associates, in 1996, Tom Rich has conducted thousands of focus groups, one-on-one interviews and online interactions for clients in nearly every industry. He boasts an extensive background in brand strategy, consumer behavior and shopper insights -- skills he developed while working for companies that include Backer & Spielvogel Advertising, Nabisco, Tambrands, and Unilever. This background gives Tom a unique skill set among qualitative practitioners and allows him to structure research and analysis around the tactical and strategic decisions that will be made as a result of the research. Tom holds a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Pennsylvania and a master's degree in business administration from the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration at Dartmouth College.