Posted By Aimée Caffrey ,
Tuesday, December 10, 2019
Updated: Monday, December 9, 2019
Practical Messiness Masked by the Qualitative and Quantitative Distinction
By: Aimée Caffrey
This blog post discusses the practical messiness that can be masked by the qualitative/quantitative distinction and offers an approach for thinking about and dealing with that messiness.
Like many anthropologists, I have an abiding interest in the ways in which people construct and reproduce boundaries. During my doctoral work, my primary focus was on boundaries such as ethnicity, caste, and nationality. The professional path I have taken in more recent years has in part shifted my attention toward boundaries of another variety—the boundaries that demarcate scientific knowledge practices in industry, and toward a particular boundary with which the readers of this blog are already quite familiar—that between quantitative and qualitative. In my present role, I conduct and help support research that by most definitions would count as qualitative. At the same time, this work almost always feeds into, or follows on the heels of, research that by most definitions is quantitative. It might entail using IDIs, focus groups, or journaling exercises to better understand terminology or relevant dimensions of experience prior to writing a survey. At the other end of things, it might entail using these data collection formats in an effort to make sense of survey findings—when we have discovered the what but are uncertain of the why.
Working at this intersection instills a perhaps exaggerated awareness of, and sensitivity to, the risks of accepting the quant/qual boundary at face value. Like others of its type, this distinction is a productive shorthand for organizing and talking about a variety of practices; however, it can mask the messiness of reality. A very experienced industry researcher gestured toward this messiness on a recent L&E webinar when he remarked on the "under-powered quant" that can be at work when focus group moderators ask for a show of hands. Alternatively, consider that many of what are generally marketed as mobile ethnography or online qual tools often contain what we otherwise think of as quantitative question types (e.g., multiple choice). To offer another example, I regularly assist fellow researchers with the development of interview and focus group discussion guides, and often this assistance centers in part on rephrasing "how much" (i.e., quantitative) kinds of questions to help us make sure we are in fact collecting qualitative data.
These examples of the messiness relate to a tension between the method deployed and the data gathered. When we think of the boundary between qualitative and quantitative as pertaining to a (reporting) distinction between numbers and words, the lines are similarly blurred—we discover the use of stories and images to help explain the findings of quantitative analysis and the use of quantitative adjectives to convey insights from qualitative analysis. This isn't terribly surprising: If there is "terror in numbers," as Darrell Huff wrote in How to Lie with Statistics, the tensions and nuances at the very human heart of qualitative data can also induce discomfort. But, just as the pictures (e.g., graphs) we draw to quell the disquietude of quant can exaggerate the story that the numbers tell, so too can the words we use to describe our qualitative findings be misleading. What is more important than policing the qualitative/quantitative boundary? It is being watchful for what the messiness around that boundary might signal—that there is a misalignment somewhere among the objectives in mind, the method deployed, the data gathered, and ultimately, the claims that are made.
There may be justifiable and even good reasons to ask for a show of hands in a focus group—for example, as a quick "pulse check", or to help warm up participants at the start of the discussion. But whether we think of our work as quant or qual—and whether we are thinking of our questions, our methods, or our claims in making that determination—let's be deliberate and mindful about the implications of actively inviting that messiness into the picture.
Aimée Caffrey is a cultural anthropologist and UX researcher. Since 2017, she has worked in the Advanced Analytics Group at Bain & Company, where she collaborates with consultants, developers, designers, and fellow researchers to help clients solve some of today’s most exciting business challenges. If you wish to get in touch, please email her at Aimee.Caffrey@Bain.com.
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Posted By Kunyi Mangalam, Mara Consulting,
Tuesday, November 26, 2019
Use a Listening Session Approach for Better Design & Innovation Research
This blog is intended to offer a high-level description of a qualitative data collection method called Listening Sessions that can yield deeper understanding of people’s reasoning, emotions, and guiding principles. This approach is particularly valuable for practitioners of design research, and for those who contribute to the innovation process.
This approach was developed by Indi Young, who invented Mental Model Diagrams (MMDs) when she was one of the founding members of Adaptive Path. Find her at IndiYoung.com. When I interned with Indi, I learned this approach as part of her methodology. Adopting this approach made me a better interviewer for the Discovery work I do in Service Design.
Research for Design – it’s Not Designing a Calorie Tracking App, it’s How to Look Good at a Reunion
Research for design and innovation is tasked with understanding how people make decisions as they progress toward achieving a purpose. The “thing” that’s being designed, like an app, is always part of a larger goal. For example, I want to keep track of my calories by using a tracker on my phone. The thing being designed is the tracking app. But my larger purpose is to look good at a reunion. The app will help me in that goal.
For innovation, it’s not just about one thing (the app), it’s also about what else the company can do to support me in trying to look good at my reunion. Needs will be surfaced that the company can decide whether they want to pursue supporting. Revealing these needs, figuring out how to support them in a competitive way, and commercializing them is fundamental to innovation.
Change Your Mindset from Interviewing to Listening
Conducting qualitative research for design and innovation requires a shift in mind-set. It requires that you “listen” rather than “interview.” You may be thinking, “I have been listening to people for my entire career — I listen for a living!” That’s how I felt, too. Then I learned that an Interview is to a Listening Session as Moderating is to Facilitating. They look similar, but the intent, the process, and the outcomes are different.
There Are Two Critical Differences between an Interview and a Listening Session
First, Listening Sessions belong to Problem Space research; Interviewing tends to belong to Solution Space research.
Problem Space research is concerned with how a person (not a user) thinks and reasons their way to achieve a goal. It is disconnected from a particular company, brand, product, or service. Problem Space research is foundational and can be used to fuel many solutions.
An easy way to think about Problem Space research is that the research focus would be just as relevant to someone your grandparent’s age as it would be to your grandchild’s. Examples include: How do you groom yourself for an important day at work? How do you decide to attend a performance? How do you prepare for a good night’s sleep? How do you make yourself look good to see people at an important get-together?
Solution Space research involves speaking to people about their relationship or an experience with a product, service, or brand — i.e., the solution. The words “users”, “members,” “customers,” and “employees” imply a relationship with a “solution.” Product development, marketing communications strategy and tactics, brand positioning, customer experience mapping, packaging, user experience, and content development are all examples of solution space research.
The table below summarizes the difference between Problem Space and Solution Space research.
The second difference is that you listen for and nudge people to reveal what is underneath a preference, opinion, explanation, or description. Compare this to a Solution Space IDI where we are often interviewing for Perceptions, Opinions, Behaviours, and Attitudes (shout out to Naomi Henderson for her acronym POBA) around a brand, a product, etc. In the Problem Space, when POBAs are articulated, we take them as our cue to nudge people further into their thinking, their feelings, or the “code” they live by to identify what is underneath.
These two differences make an enormous difference in the approach between being a Listener and being an Interviewer.
Difference 1: There is no Guide
In a Listening Session, there is no Interview Guide. The conversation begins with the study scope question, like, “Tell me about how you made sure you looked your best for your reunion…” And it continues from there. In this example, the participant may or may not have used a calorie counter app. They may have used one from a competitor. (Note, they would have been recruited such that they prepared to look their best for their reunion.)
In place of a guide, there is a disciplined ear; the Listener nudges the participant when they hear more surface descriptions. The box to the left summarizes different types of surface descriptions that need nudging to get more depth. The box to the right provides some examples of question stems that will redirect participants to reveal their thinking, reasoning, and emotions.
Difference 2: The Conversation Is Free from Externally Introduced Topics
In many guides, there are questions that we — and our clients — want answered, like reactions and opinions about things participants have not brought up. In a Listening Session, nothing is introduced or queried that hasn’t already been mentioned.
Difference 3: Outputs Are the Starting Point for Innovation and Design
In the Solution space, research outputs are usually an “answer” of sorts: which product package should be produced? Which creative delivered the message most compellingly? Which call to action content resulted in the most conversion?
In the Problem Space, Listening Sessions identify people’s needs as they progress toward a goal or purpose. These needs are the starting point in the organization’s quest to figure out solutions (services, products, experiences) that better support people. Examples include: a website that is more reflective of their needs, a calorie tracking app that corresponds more closely to their purpose of looking good for others.
In other words, while qual in the Solution Space tends to supply the “answers” to problems, qual in the Problem Space tends to supply the “questions” that spur a company to explore one or more directions.
Try a Few Question Stems and See Where it Leads
Integrate a few question stems into your conversation; when a participant say,s “Mostly we go to movies on Wednesday night…”, ask, “How did you figure out that works best for you?” When someone describes a statement of fact — like a describing a scene — ask, “what’s going through your mind in that scenario?”, to get them back to their own thinking and feelings.
For more than 30 years, Kunyi has helped organizations deeply understand the people they wish to serve and assist them in using this understanding to make decisions and move forward with more certainty and less risk.
She is a senior consultant at Mara Consulting, working to help organizations improve service delivery through technology, privacy & security, business consulting, and human centered design.
Linked In: linkedin.com/in/kunyi
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Posted By Mary Sorber ,
Tuesday, November 12, 2019
"Selling" the Added Value of Qualitative UX Research
Quallies who want to expand their practice into UX research need to be aware of the different types of UX research and the various terminology used in UX field. Practicing UX researchers (UXRs), especially those not lucky enough to work within a company with a well-established UX research practice, should be adept at discussing how qualitative research adds value. This article is written for anyone who need to “sell” the benefits of UX research, whether to generate new business or convince internal colleagues.
How Qualitative UX Research Adds Value
As independent consultants, you probably already have a sales pitch in your back pocket describing the value of qualitative insights to the marketing organization. In UX research, you’ll be working most closely with product management and engineering. Talking to this different set of stakeholders means tweaking the terminology and emphasis. In working with product teams, the language that resonates is that of “bringing the outside-in perspective, mitigation of risk, and efficient use of valuable engineering resources.”
Three Categories of UX Research
UX research falls into 3 broad categories: exploratory, conceptual, and evaluative. Each contributes differently to the product and mitigates different risks. Exploratory — or generative — UX research (field visits, ethnography) addresses product-market fit and reduces the risk of building the wrong product for the wrong people. Conceptual UXR (iterative design research, usually with prototypes) reduces the risk of building the product in the wrong way and minimizes internal bias. Evaluative UXR (primarily usability) confirms user goals are met and reduces user adoption risk.
Disruptive vs. Incremental Research
It’s a mistake to think of UX research as synonymous with usability testing. UX research encompasses much more, and significant contributions come from other methods. Usability testing — as an evaluative method — can contribute only incremental improvements to the product. The engineering team is a fast-moving train on tracks that have already been laid. Usability testing may be able to paint the coach a new color, but it’s too late to route the tracks to a different destination. Disruptive innovation and product-market fit come from doing exploratory research in advance of the engineering effort.
Working as a UXR, your role will be to bring in the outside perspective, helping to develop and maintain focus on the user problem and delivering value to the user. This is sometimes a large effort in the face of pervasive and — at times — strongly held opinions about the perceived problem or the imagined value of a visionary solution. Developing a strong partnership with entrepreneurs and product leaders is key to grounding the vision and shaping it into something that will be successful in the world of the eventual users.
Being adept at explaining the different types of UX research and how they can add value to the product team will help you sell your UX services. And in terms of impact, focus first on exploratory methods, then conceptual methods. Usability testing may be a good way to get in the door, but only as a last resort as your impact on the project will be severely constrained.
Mary Sorber is Founder and Principal Researcher at Practical Insights, a boutique qualitative research company engineered to ask the right questions to get answers and insights that are a springboard for innovation and improved user experience. We are happy to partner with quallies looking to break into the UX field.
qualitative ux research
types of research
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Posted By Regina Szyszkiewicz, MA,
Tuesday, October 29, 2019
Meditation and the Art of Moderating
Handling Tough Moments
Imagine you are seated at the head of a conference table and you open a focus group discussion asking participants how they feel about their health insurance plan. And the first person who responds says she does not like her plan because she received poor care that led to amputation of her leg. And imagine you still have 90 minutes to go and you don’t want the group’s energy or the discussion to get derailed. What do you do?
This actually happened to me about 15 years ago. I was personally shocked and momentarily caught off-guard by the comment. But I managed to connect with the participant, acknowledging what she had just shared. I proceeded to uncover what others had to say — which included more typical responses of being happy or unhappy due to cost or access.
In the end, the group was successful and the client obtained the desired insights tied to the research objectives. I felt fortunate, because I knew it could have gone a different way.
We Are only Human
As moderators, we have to keep our cool. There are many things we need to juggle during a live focus group or interview session. We need to multi-task: asking the questions, managing participation, keeping track of research objectives, watching the time, etc.
During sessions, we never know what will come. Things might not go as planned: participants may arrive late, first-time client observers may want to add questions that are off-topic to a discussion guide that is already packed, someone may become ill in the group, etc. We need to be able to respond mindfully and wisely.
To ensure participants feel safe, secure, and comfortable, we personally also need to feel the same. When we have an off day, we need to find a way to get our energy centered and grounded.
Meditation to the Rescue
There are things we can do to become present with ourselves so that we can be present with others. Having a self-connecting routine or ritual prior to beginning an interview or focus group is a good start.
I find daily meditation and yoga practice to be an invaluable self-connecting training. I can more easily find the mental and emotional space to make wise choices in the moment. I am also better able to have compassion for others and myself.
In fact, I have found meditation and yoga to be so beneficial in my life and career that I became a certified yoga instructor 15 years ago! (I now teach a community yoga class on most Saturdays as a volunteer.)
Some self-connecting tools to explore:
Regina Szyszkiewicz, MA, of Ten People Talking loves qualitative research. She is a master moderator who has conducted over a thousand qualitative sessions. Regina has deep experience in both in-person and online qualitative methods. Regina received her MA from the University of Illinois in Applied Sociology / Market Research. She served on QRCA’s board from 2016-2018 and currently serves as a co-chair of QRCA’s Online Special Interest Group.
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Posted By Katrina Noelle,
Tuesday, October 15, 2019
Use the CDJ Framework to Innovate Methods
Innovate your tools and methods by going on your own customer journey; become a customer on a journey through your own methods! In order to keep qualitative insight “approaches to understanding customers” fresh and relevant, you should consider, evaluate, buy, enjoy, advocate, and bond with the methods you use to understand consumers.
The customer decision journey (CDJ) is a model that shows how customers complete a purchase, guiding marketers where and what they should do along the way. Borrow this approach to go on your own journey to develop and choose new tools, techniques, and methodologies.
The journey begins with the consumer’s top-of-mind consideration set – just like consumers do.
- Start by considering your needs. Why are you choosing to iterate an existing method or start offering a new one?
- Brainstorm with your team. Where are opportunities for improvement? What do team members want to try/experiment with?
- Make a list of all the contenders. Then walk through each of them, asking yourself:
- Is it answering a need? Filling a gap?
- Is it giving your team something new or unique?
- Can you explain succinctly the value proposition and point of difference as though you were in an elevator with a prospective client?
- Is anyone else doing it? Who? How? Could you offer it differently?
- Test your ideas. While you do so, be sure to constantly ask for feedback from your team, participants, and clients.
- Track iterations and updates. Chronicle changes made to the approach at every step because your ideas may morph, combine, or improve as you progress.
- Be open. Keep an open mind to the changes/modifications/new ideas along the way.
- Keep asking. Constantly query if the new/improved method is filling a need. Is it improving an older process or adding something new?
3. BUY OR CHOOSE
We’ve included “choose” in this traditional third step because when choosing a methodology, it’s often just that – a choice, a decision to move forward in a certain way – not a purchase.
- Note: this step is sometimes overlooked. After all this work, it’s hard to say “no” to an idea to which you’ve grown close. But keep in mind that rolling it out is an even bigger step than testing it.
- If you decide NOT to move forward, table it in a helpful way. Make note of learnings that could be used in a different format or could serve another purpose at some other time.
4. ENTER THE LOYALTY LOOP: Enjoy, Advocate and Bond
Take a moment to ENJOY your hard work; now is the time to advocate your development with your broader organization and with clients. Try a pilot test with an understanding client or ADVOCATE the approach within your organization!
- Ground everyone. To do so, establish with everyone a need you are trying to meet, the gap you are trying to fill, and/or your rationale for adding this approach.
- Bond. Bonding in this sense means that the team gets familiarized with the new approach and comes to see it as their own. Solicit feedback from participants about their experience. Ask clients how they are using the new approaches and what could be improved further.
- Engage. Ensure your team are staying engaged, enjoying the experience, and getting the most out of the new methods as they are a part of the continual evolution.
This post was inspired by a presentation entitled “Innovate Your Tools And Methods By Going On Your Own Customer Journey” at the CX Talks event in Chicago held on September 24, 2019.
Katrina is principal of KNow Research, a full-service insights consultancy specializing in designing custom qualitative insights projects for 16+ years to unlock insights about brands and target audiences. She is also co-founder of Scoot Insights, whose trademarked ScootTM Sprint approach helps decision-makers choose the right direction.
President, KNow Research, Co-Founder Scoot Insights
www.knowresearch.com / www.scootinsights.com
@kat_noelle / https://www.linkedin.com/in/katrinanoelle/
Customer Journey Maps
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Posted By Mark Wheeler,
Wednesday, October 2, 2019
Photo by Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash
A book published earlier this year provides a nice toolkit for qualitative researchers and consultants looking for new ways to bring additional value to our work. Super Thinking, by authors Gabriel Weinberg and Lauren McCann, introduces and explains a large number of mental models that can be applied as tools to help us do our research and communicate our findings and recommendations with more depth and impact.
A mental model is essentially a recurring concept that can be used to help understand, explain, and predict things. They are used as shortcuts to higher-level thinking. Most mental models have solid supporting evidence behind them but are not extremely well-known or formally taught to everyone in school.
Because most mental models are intuitive, they can be quickly explained to others, and used to recognize and describe patterns in behavior. They are highly valuable in qualitative research because we continually observe and hear things that need to be communicated to our clients – sometimes in ways that help to give a higher level of explanation than we have heard. It is much easier for us to recognize and explain something if we have a solid label for what is going on.
There are literally hundreds of mental models in the book. They come from a wide and varied number of fields of study, including philosophy, investing, statistics, physics and physical science, and economics. A list of several mental models is included in the accompanying table.
Applying Models in Research
In a recent marketing research project, I found a way to make use of one of Weisberg’s and McCann’s mental models to help communicate a key point to clients during a long day of in-person research. (Note: there will be a lot of detail blinding in this example to ensure confidentiality.) The research was in support of a safer kind of post-surgical wound care that had been on the market for a few years. Some of the doctors in research claimed that they hadn’t noticed fewer post-surgical complications since switching to the safer alternative, and some thought they may have seen even more complications. This was causing (and I am being understated here) some confusion and concern in the back room. Fortunately, the situation brought to mind the mental model of a moral hazard. Put simply, people take on more risk when they have information (in this case, the knowledge about the new wound-care therapy) that encourages them to believe that they are being protected.
Discussion with clients about moral hazard helped us to put a label on what we were hearing and helped us understand and probe differently in later interviews. Even more important, we were ultimately able to use the learnings to generate new messaging about the wound care product to address the potential problem of moral hazard for both physicians and patients.
A lot of the useful mental models in the book come from the social and behavioral sciences. The concept of availability bias describes the fact that once we make an answer (or behavior) available in someone’s mind by drawing attention to it, the answer begins to seem more correct. It is an automatic effect and is nearly impossible to resist. Of course, we usually want to avoid availability bias when we moderate (i.e., no leading questions).
I often discuss this idea of availability bias with clients when writing guides or surveys, and the reaction is overwhelmingly positive – even when it leads to re-writing someone else’s question. Availability bias comes up in other situations, for example when composing messages for promotion. In these cases, the bias can become a bit more acceptable (e.g., “Doctor, tell me about how satisfied your patients have been after you have prescribed our drug?”).
The larger point behind these examples is that introducing clients to mental models such as moral hazard and availability bias helps to communicate relatively complex points in a simple way that wouldn’t be possible without using the terms. When discussing a particular mental model such as loss aversion before research, clients and other listeners then begin to recognize it when they hear it from respondents. It is also fair to think of mental models as “value-adds” for any moderators or consultants who are able to bring in new concepts to help their client achieve their objectives. I’ve found that introducing mental models relatively early in reports can help prepare clients for critical upcoming findings and conclusions.
It is well worth while to check out Super Thinking and discover which mental models can be most valuable to your business.
Mark A. Wheeler, PhD, is a qualitative researcher and consultant who applies his background in cognitive and behavioral science to help his clients achieve their goals. He is Principal of Wheeler Research LLC in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.
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Posted By Jennifer Dale,
Tuesday, September 17, 2019
Qual or Quant? Choosing the best method for your research study
Quantitative and qualitative research are both scientific methods for data collection and analysis. They can be applied alone, or in combination, to maximize insights.
The Basic Difference: Going Beyond What vs. Why
Quantitative research relies on large sample sizes to collect numerical data that can be mathematically analyzed for statistically significantfindings. Surveys are structured, questions are typically closed-ended, and answer choices are fixed. However, quantitative research may also include a limited number of short-answer open-ended questions to help clarify why people responded the way they did to a closed-ended question. Eye tracking, facial coding, and even Big Data fall under the umbrella of quantitative research, with computers analyzing enormous volumes of data incredibly fast.
Quantitative studies produce numerical data, which allows for statistical analysis and ultimately precise findings. The US Census is a great example of a quantitative research study – fixed and close-ended questions, an enormous sample size, a collective review of many respondents, and measured population segments.
In contrast, qualitative research seeks to understand the reasons behind the numbers, as well as what is not yet known. Sample sizes are smaller, questions are unstructured, and results more subjective. Unlike quantitative research, qualitative studies insert the researcher into the data collection process. The researcher probes responses and participants provide more detail. Qualitative data is collected through interviews, group discussions, diaries, personal observations, and a variety of other creative and ever-expanding means.
Qual studies work with textual and visual data, interpreted and analyzed for directional findings. Qualitative research studies include fluid and open-ended questions, a smaller sample size, an in-depth review of each respondent, and emerging themes.
I like to think of the difference visually, where a quant study collects specific data from a large number of people, and a qual study goes deeper to collect greater insights from a small number of people.
How to Choose
The answer to whether you proceed with quantitative or qualitative research lies in your research objective and available resources.
- Why you’re doing the research
- What you need to know
- Your budget, staff, + schedule
- How the findings will be used
Consider these possible scenarios the next time you’re stuck and don’t know which way to go:
Quant + qual can come together in other ways. A questionnaire with open-ended questions, while ultimately coded numerically, can offer a window into the unknown. Focus groups that also include poll questions or surveys can produce hard data when analyzed in total, even if the results are not statistically significant.
With good planning, quantitative and qualitative research come together like a dance, guiding the marketer’s success with every step.
I Say Hybrid, You Say Multimethod
Combining quantitative and qualitative research approaches is an ancient strategy, but the names continue to change with the times. I did a bit of research and found the following terms being used to describe that ideal combination of quantitative and qualitative research. What term do you use? And why? ;)
Jennifer Dale, President + CEO Inside Heads, is a seasoned marketing professional and pioneer in online market research. Her passion for marketing, human behavior, and technology keep InsideHeads on the short list of research providers for some of the world’s most discriminating clients. Jennifer is co-author of Qual-Online, The Essential Guide and has published a number of articles in VIEWS, Alert! and Quirk’s Marketing Research Review.
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Posted By Bruce Peoples,
Tuesday, August 20, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, August 13, 2019
Moderating vs. Facilitating: What’s the Difference? Can You Do Both?
A few events in my career journey triggered the exploration of facilitating as a business opportunity and value-add for my clients. First was a breakout session at a QRCA conference where “facilitating” — vs. “moderating” — was brought to my attention. The second was when a client called me on a Sunday to replace his facilitator on Monday, to facilitate a session with R&D, sales, and marketing. With so little time to prepare, I trusted my instincts and experience as a moderator and let it fly… and suddenly I was a facilitator! It was a productive session — the client called me back for another session, and later to do consumer focus groups — and my curiosity was piqued to learn more.
Core Elements: The Same
I attended a three-day training session in facilitation (much like those offered at RIVA or Burke) and was pleasantly surprised to confirm that these two disciplines have much in common. The core elements of moderating and facilitating are the same: there is a gathering of people with something in common; there is a purpose behind the meeting; and there are desired outcomes. You guide the discussion in a thoughtful manner by providing structure and process.
Perhaps the biggest commonality is putting together an agenda — what we call a discussion guide — based on the client’s objectives and desired deliverables. Like a focus group discussion guide, much attention must be paid to the flow of the meeting and to the activities that will generate robust discussions.
Many of the exercises you utilize for qualitative can also be used for facilitating meetings. These might include:
- Developing lists and gathering, sorting, and ranking ideas
- Breaking out in small groups
- Mind mapping
- Perceptual mapping
Facilitated meetings are usually longer – a half day – and therefore benefit from energizing exercises interspersed throughout the session.
The Differences: Participants, Output, and Achieving Consensus
One key difference between moderating and facilitating is the participants. Focus group participants have no skin in the outcome; you will never see them again. Facilitated participants have to work with each other. A facilitated meeting may have colleagues from different functions (R&D, marketing, sales) and at different levels of authority (managers to vice presidents). When the meeting is over, they have to work together to achieve common goals. Their strategies and tactics – their jobs – might be affected by the outcome. I ask to conduct a few brief interviews of participants from different areas prior to the meeting to get a feel for the situation, personalities, motives, and issues that might arise.
Another difference is the output: in a focus group, the outputs are insights and determining their implications and developing recommendations. In a facilitated work group or work team meeting, the output is often an action plan that determines what, who, how much, and when. The action plan should be understood and agreed upon by all participants. In other words: achieve consensus, which means participants can live with the decisions that created the action plan and support them.
Two issues you’ll address more often when facilitating a work team than moderating consumers are resolving conflicts and achieving consensus. Marketing wants that new ice cream now; manufacturing can’t make it until next year. Your approach is somewhat intuitive and not much different than if moderating – but requires more attention and care. Things you’ll need to spend more time on include clarifying the issue, understanding its root causes, ensuring everyone understands the issue, brainstorming pros and cons, and ultimately utilizing techniques to rank or prioritize.
Projects and Meetings Where Facilitators Add Value
Facilitators can add value to a lot of different projects and meetings, but common types are:
- Innovation: Brainstorming to create new product ideas.
- Process improvement: This might include flowcharting a process, identifying roadblocks, and developing solutions to clear those roadblocks.
- Strategic planning: This might include a market situation assessment, SWOT analysis, and developing the outlines of a new strategic plan.
- Data Analysis: Sharing, analyzing, and assessing a lot of data from a variety of sources.
- Planning and executing a new product launch: The output is often an action plan.
Implications for You
If you are a good moderator, should you seek out facilitation opportunities? Yes! You already have many of the skills, resources, and experiences to successfully facilitate work group meetings. To pump up your confidence before jumping in, seek and find some formal facilitation training. On your first projects, get a partner to help plan and execute.
Put together a one- or two-page brochure (PDF is fine) highlighting your capabilities – and this can include moderating. Then network your way to generate awareness. Many of you work with research managers at large companies. Let them know and ask them to share your capabilities with their colleagues in other functions, such as marketing, sales, R&D, or HR.
About the Author:
Prior to becoming a qualitative consultant, Bruce Peoples worked in brand management, channel, and customer marketing for several well-known brands in different industries including Hanes and Jack Daniel’s. Bruce has been a QRCA member for about a decade now and utilizes a variety of methods to help his clients solve their marketing problems, whether they be consumer or business-to-business related. Bruce was trained in moderating at RIVA and in facilitation at Leadership Strategies.
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Posted By Katye Hamilton,
Tuesday, August 6, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, August 6, 2019
Qualitative Research 101 – A Guide to the Basics of Qual
Qualitative Research 101 – A Guide to the Basics of Qual
Are you new to qualitative research or want a refresher on the different styles of group discussions that typically encompass qual research? While the topics you explore in each session will vary widely, there’s a basic group structure to take into consideration before you start building your discussion guide. First, decide if your research objectives need face-to-face (F2F) solutions or if an online approach will work.
For best group dynamics, the ideal total participants is 4-6 people. Any larger and you won’t be able to hear from each participant as often or dive deep into the conversation with everyone involved. The discussion is led by a moderator and you may see an assistant or dual moderator in the room. The moderator(s) lead the group from topic to topic and encourage all to contribute.
Standard focus group rooms have a one-way mirror for clients to observe the session in real time. Photo courtesy of Issues & Answers and their Virginia Beach Facility.
Dyads and Triads
These are groups with only two or three participants, respectively, plus the moderator. Maybe it’s a physician, patient, and caregiver doing an appointment mock-up. Or you want to have a focused discussion with just a few consumers; three pet parents, each with a pet with a specific dietary need. The conversation is likely going to be less exploratory and more focused so you can dive into details quicker. Dyads and Triads are great when there’s a monitoring session, like website navigation or roleplaying situations.
In-Depth Interview (IDI)
A true one-on-one interview involves a moderator + respondent. The power in an IDI usually stems from the research topic at hand. Is it a sensitive subject like health care, death, financial, etc.? Or maybe it’s understanding a person’s journey – purchasing process, behavior understanding, etc. Isolating the respondent helps promote a feeling of safety in the conversation as well as creates an opportunity to explore subjects more deeply.
All three of these session types can be executed in a research facility, off-site with cameras for recording, or online with a focus group vendor. Most clients want to see and hear the conversations in real time, so they watch from what we call the “back room” which may be a physical room at a research facility or off-site, or in a virtual back room with an online provider.
There are some innovative focus group spaces that shake up the traditional, round table/conference room set-up with more relaxed or on-topic scenes. Check out Good Run Research & Recreation; they have a formal living room and bar room models (still with the one-way mirror, complete back room experience for clients) to amplify the respondent and moderator discussions.
These have a lot of names (workshop, co-creation, etc.), but the premise is pretty similar across the board. These are sessions where you bring multiple groups of people into a room together. When you have a client that wants to be highly engaged with the process, and not just an observer, you may want to tap into these models. These could be:
- An internal workshop with employees from multiple departments (stakeholders) and you as the moderator facilitate the group activities and conversation.
- A session where you mingle clients with the respondents for brainstorming, ideation, new product development, etc. Clients would likely be spread out among the respondent tables so they can engage directly as well as learn firsthand their experiences and ideas.
Marketing research ethnographies are never “hands-off.” In the education space, a true ethnography would have little to no engagement with the person or people you are observing; you’re meant to do just that – observe. In marketing research, we believe in the power of observation plus asking questions.
Ethnographies in MR can come in the form of in-home interviews, shop-alongs where you meet a respondent at a specified location and track their buying process, or even on-location research. The purpose is to get the respondent in a natural environment, rather than a traditional focus group setting. This is helpful when you need fewer recall answers and more in-the-moment engagement.
Other F2F Types
The list above is not meant to be exhaustive; in-person intercepts and telephone interviews can be important for your qualitative research, depending on the objectives. Is there another form of F2F that I missed? Tell me about your methodology in the comments!
Online qual solutions have expanded tremendously in terms of vendors, programs, platforms, and the types of research executions available — from desktop applications to mobile phone apps. It’s important to consider online styles when your client may have a limited budget or there’s a tight timeline that limits your travel opportunities.
Methods may vary, from text-based surveys with auto Q&A to mobile apps that track respondents’ phone patterns (the apps they open, websites they checked, etc.). Sometimes it’s important to engage and observe in a respondent’s natural habitat – their mobile device. Maybe you need to geo-ping respondents for a study when they’re near a certain location and you need photo collectors?
Communities vs. Online Bulletin Boards (OLBB)
For some, online communities are virtual hubs for long-term or continual engagement. The online community acts as a “panel” of ready respondents for your ongoing topic.
Shorter engagements are sometimes called communities or online bulletin boards. These could be as short as 2-3 days with a few dozen respondents. There are multiple engagement activities from photo collages, Q&A, group discussions, etc. OLBBs may be less flashy and more of a straight discussion thread. There could be engagement through liking/commenting on others’ posts, but the conversation itself is pretty straightforward.
Semantics aside, this type of online qual is still moderated! Through probing questions, video chats, or private messages, the moderator writes the discussion guide and engages with the respondents in the platform to promote responsiveness, details, and any follow-up questions that may arise. These tend to be a solution for more respondent engagement than in a one-time fixed setting and give respondents flexibility with their dedication since many are mobile enabled.
Since the Fall of 2017, InsightsNow’s Clean Label Enthusiasts™ is an online community which offers ongoing insights into a range of topics, providing a highly flexible research solution for quick answers.
Just like the F2F group types, you can translate that experience into a digital medium. Multiple vendors allow moderators to share their screens, their stimuli, allow for group chat, individual webcams and a client view. Doing online groups in this way helps alleviate any travel pains but does usually require more technology-adept consumers – something to consider if that may change your recruit type.
I’m specifically leaving out the topic of surveys for this blog post! While some surveys can be qualitative in nature, most of the time they still fall into the realm of quant. Qual derives part of its value from the moderated content — something we haven’t been able to solve fully in the survey space.
I hope you either learned something new with this post or gained fresh inspiration for a project you’re working on. Tell us about your qual methods in the comments!
About the Author:
Kayte Hamilton is a hybrid marketing researcher with a passion for solving complex client problems. She’s got a knack for sorting out the details while maintaining project integrity. In her free time (ha!) you will find her spending time with her dog Muffin, traveling the states, or volunteering.
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Posted By Kay Corry Aubrey,
Tuesday, July 23, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, July 23, 2019
How Can Voice AI Help Qualitative Researchers?
Within three years, 50% of Web searches will be done via voice. Today almost one in four US households has access to a smart speaker such as Google Home or Alexa. Consumers are adopting voice technology faster than any other technology, including smart phones. Very soon voice artificial intelligence (AI) will become embedded in our everyday lives to the point where we may not even notice it anymore. How can qualitative researchers leverage this powerful trend?
For inspiration I spoke with four experts who are doing cool things with voice technology. They described unique ways to apply voice Artificial Intelligence (AI) that offer a preview on how this technology might transform our work as researchers. For example, consumers are shifting toward using their voice vs. their fingers to interact with technology and the Internet.
The Rise of the Talking Survey
Greg Hedges has had great success with voice-based surveys through virtual assistants such as Siri, Alexa and Google. According to him, “It’s like launching a focus group of one. People are interacting where they are most comfortable in their own home, using their own words. We’ve found that people are more spontaneous and natural when they talk vs. when they type.” Greg’s company also helps organizations integrate voice branding into their digital marketing ecosystem. Part of their expertise is redesigning a client’s SEO strategy to be phrase and question-based (vs. keyword based) to accommodate voice searches.
Ask Your Digital Twin Narrate Your Next Report
Domhnaill Hernon collaborates with artists to explore the deep connections between technology and human potential. He worked with Reeps One, a beatboxer, who fed hours of his audio recordings into Nokia’s AI machine. To their astonishment, the system returned new melodies he didn’t put in but sounded just like him. Rather than feeling threatened, the artist embraced the capability and now incorporates AI-generated tunes into his work. Soon this technology will be widely available, and you’ll be able to produce reports in your own voice that clients can listen to just like a podcast.
It’s hard to imagine how voice technology – and AI in general – will change our world. Technology is always a double-edged sword. On one hand, AI will be used to cure disease, make societies more efficient, and redistribute wealth so humans everywhere prosper. On the other, it might lead to a hardening of the social classes and a surveillance state. In a recent episode of 60 Minutes, AI expert Kai Fu Lee said that 40% of jobs will be eliminated within 15 years due to artificial intelligence. To empower ourselves we need to understand what AI is, how it works, its capabilities and limitations.
How Voice AI Works
As with any artificial intelligence, voice technology relies on two things: having access to a huge pool of data, and algorithms that look for patterns within the data. For voice, the algorithm is called Natural Language Processing (NLP). The result can only be as good as the data that are fed into the machine. Today in North America, Voice Assistants (VA) are 95% accurate if the person speaking is a white native-born man, 80% accurate if it’s a woman, and as low as 50% accurate if the person has an accent. This is because of the socially limited group of people who contribute their data by using voice assistants - VA users tend to be early adopters, white, and highly educated.
Jen Heape notes, “Natural Language Processing (NLP) cannot deal reliably with anyone who is not a white male, and this is deeply problematic, which is why Google and Amazon are giving away so much free so they can collect more complete samples.”
The algorithms that make up NLP leverage fixed rules of language around syntax, grammar, semantics. The algorithm can be taught, “if they say this, say that” and the machine learns the pattern. This capability allows the virtual assistant to process simple prescriptive (but useful) commands such as “turn on the lights,” “play NPR,” or “order more lettuce,” because the technology has learned the vocabulary and structure of English sentences.
Can a Machine Be Conversational?
However, voice technology is still very much in its infancy. The machine has no concept of culture or social inferences. As Heape noted, “If I were to say ‘The kids just got out of school’ and the listener is in the same time zone, they’d know it’s 3 or 3:30. However, the voice technology would not be able to infer this because it lacks the data.”
Freddie Feldman leads a voice design team which creates chatbots and conversational interfaces for medical environments. According to Feldman, chat bots and voice technology in general are helpful in medical environments to get quick answers to predictable questions. “But for anything more crucial, dynamic or that requires understanding the other person’s psychology you’ll need to call someone in the end.” In theory, it’s possible that voice technology will have deeper human characteristics one day. “The technology is there. It’s just a question of someone piecing it together.”
It’s hard to imagine any machine being able to understand and integrate all the rich signals we send and receive in a conversation: the look on a person’s face, the tone of their voice, their diction, their physical posture, our perception of anger and pleasure, or what they are thinking. These elements are as essential to meaning and human connection as the words themselves. As Heape said, “VAs will never replace the human. There will always be a human pulling the lever. We decide what the machine needs to learn. VAs will remove the arduous elements. But we need a human to interpret the results and analyze it. We’re still so much at the beginning of it — we have not fed the machine.”
My feeling is there will be abundant opportunities for qualitative researchers, but – first – we need to understand the beast and what it cannot do.
Learn More about Artificial Intelligence and Voice Technology
Thomas H Davenport and Rajeev Rananki, “Artificial Intelligence for the Real World; Don’t start with moonshots”, Harvard Business Review, January-February 2018. (free download).
Joanna Penn, “9 Ways That Artificial Intelligence (AI) Will Disrupt Authors And The Publishing Industry”, Creative Penn Podcast #437, July 2019.
Oz Woloshyn and Karah Preiss, Sleepwalkers podcast on iHeartRadio.
Voice 2019 Summit, New Jersey Institute of Technology, July 22 – 25.
Thank you to the experts I spoke with while researching this post:
- Freddie Feldman, Voice Design Director at Wolters Kluwer Health
- Jen Heape, Co-founder of Vixen Labs
- Greg Hedges, VP of Emerging Experiences at RAIN agency
- Domhnaill Hernon, Head of Experiments in Art and Technology at Nokia Bell Labs.
About the Author
Kay Corry Aubrey is a User Experience consultant and trainer who shows her customers how to make their products more easily understandable to ordinary people through usability testing and in-home studies. For the past few years she’s focused on products and services for older people that improve their lives, helping them remain independent and in their home. Kay sees great potential in voice-enabled products geared towards older folks. Her clients include Pillo Health, Stanley Black and Decker Futures, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Kay is the Luminaries Editor for the QRCA VIEWS magazine and a RIVA-certified Master Moderator and Trainer.
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