Super-qualitative! Using Qual Skills Beyond Market Research
By: Foster Winter
Please be assured, my qualitative colleagues, this subject is not intended to demean the discipline of market research. We love MR. However, over time we found that our qualitative universe was expanding. Now before you delve into astrophysics, we promise to keep our discussion more earthbound.
Whether you are in the early stages of your qualitative career, having mid-career reflections or thinking of winding down your MR-based practice, we’ve found some examples of adjacencies that may serve as thought provoking for you.
The Operating Theatre
One of our colleagues has used her qualitative background to help in a most important aspect of the world of medicine. Many of you will remember Lauren Woodiwiss as an active member of QRCA for many years. As an avocation, Lauren had been involved in community theatre. As she moved into the next phase of her career, Lauren continued to hone her acting skills, becoming a professional actor.
She says that one of her most rewarding roles is that of a patient interacting with medical professionals at all levels, from first-year med students to physicians, nurses, and other medical personnel. Nearly all medical schools now employ patient/health care provider role-playing as a valuable communication and physical exam training technique.
Lauren has found that her qualitative skills, such as reading body language coupled with rapid-fire, in-the-moment, relevant, and ad-libbed response allow her to realistically portray the patient and then provide both written and oral feedback to the learner and to the training institution. This feedback can include direction on what helped her — as a patient — to feel cared for and respected, as well as more concrete feedback of multiple aspects of taking a complete history, asking relevant questions and follow-up probes and correctly executing the physical exam.
The feedback questionnaire can have as many at 40 different elements of evaluation. These must be rated based on the “patient’s” memory of the encounter which just took place and, as mentioned, the evaluation encompasses all aspects of communication from the time the learner enters to the time of exit.
A qualitative researcher has the ability to have many thought “balls” in the air at once, such as:
What is the respondent saying?
Does that answer the question I just asked? If not, is it a point I should explore?
Does it fit the client’s objectives for the research?
How am I doing on time?
It is these skills that exquisitely prepare medical professionals for this job.
Working with Underserved Populations
As a recently retired QRC, Barbara Rugen and her husband joined the Peace Corps and were sent for two years to the African country of Namibia.
“Never once did I think I would be called upon to use my qualitative background. To my surprise, I found that my skills could make a significant difference there.”
Barbara worked largely with the Nama, who constitute the marginalized communities of the south. The first thing she learned about the Nama was the disillusionment of foreign agencies that had tried to help them: “They just don’t care!” was a common complaint. The second realization was the local prejudice against them, particularly by the white Afrikaaners: “I don’t hire Nama. The Nama are too lazy.”
A small number of Nama were in positions of influence who wanted to uplift their people but were unsure how. Barbara conducted IDIs with the leaders and focus groups with the Nama people. The qualitative sessions explored Nama attitudes and behavior, and the research provided insights to help leaders frame recommendations for Nama capacity building and develop an action plan for the capacity building of these marginalized people.
If you are interested in learning more about this adventure in qualitative, you can hear an interview with Barbara on a VIEWS podcast at https://qrcaviews.org/2019/03/11/spring-podcast-using-qualitative-techniques-within-marginalized-populations/
Business Consulting and Talent Recruiting
My journey into the adjacent qualitative universe began with a small strategy project for a company I call a re-startup. The company had reorganized and was now on a growth path. The task at hand was where to start rebuilding the organization.
Enter strategic qualitative. We began with in-person depth interviews with members of the senior management team. From the knowledge gained, we recommended that the first personnel hole that needed to be plugged was that of a MarCom director. The client agreed, and then said, “find us one.”I looked around to see if they were talking to me. But then, I realized that many organizations, particularly those in startup mode, do not – in fact should not – have their key management people getting into the weeds of going through the hiring process.
We did find our client a suitable candidate for that position — if I do say so — she’s been there for nearly 3 years, and is doing a great job with a five-person department reporting to her. And we learned and developed a process that allows the supervisory/management team to do their primary jobs and still bring in the proper new talent.
Now, I admit my bias – and my client concurs with this view – that a primary reason the process works is that the foundation of the search is based on interviews treated as qualitative investigations. The nuances of the conversations also keep an ear on cues to the candidate’s compatibility with the culture of the organization, a very important aspect to a growing company.
While the three examples above illustrate later-career direction shifts, as we noted at the outset, qualitative expertise might offer new trajectories at any point in this rapidly changing research universe. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Foster Winter is Managing Director of Sigma Research & Management Group. His experience as a business owner and researcher has contributed to his capabilities as a management and organizational consultant. Foster has served on the QRCA Board of Directors, co-chaired the Worldwide Qualitative Conference in Budapest and is the host of the QRCA VIEWS Conversations in Depth podcasts.