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The AQR/QRCA Worldwide Conference: Experiences & Learnings from a First-Timer

Posted By Shannon Danzy, danzy consults., Tuesday, June 19, 2018

This post was written by Jessica Fennell, a 2018 QRCA Young Professionals Grant recipient. Jessica works at Northstar Research Partners. First launched in 2014, the Young Professionals Grant recognizes promising qualitative researchers aged 35 and younger with free passes to the QRCA’s Annual Conference. The application deadline to attend January’s 2019 QRCA Annual Conference: Charting Your Best Course in Savannah, GA is September 24. Visit qrca.org/YPG to learn more.

As a lucky recipient of the QRCA’s Young Professionals Grant, I was extremely pleased to hear that the theme for this year’s Worldwide Conference was ‘Stay Curious’. This topic felt like it had a wide scope and, for me personally, harked back to the reason I first entered qualitative research — pure curiosity about people.

What to Expect

This was also my first international conference and I flew to Spain with a very open mindset on what I would discover over two-and-a-half jam-packed days. So, what can you expect when you attend your first AQR/QRCA Worldwide Conference?

Collaboration and Open Dialogues
One thing that immediately struck me about the Worldwide Conference was the level of collaboration among attendees. This was the first conference I had been to that specifically focused on agency-side researchers attending rather than clients. Perhaps it was this, coupled with an excellent structure (which allowed for ample opportunities to meet other attendees), that fostered a general culture of openness. I found myself networking with a whole range of practitioners, sharing our experiences on how we design our projects and swapping inspiration.

Networking Made Easy
Ah, networking! I will freely admit that walking into a roomful of 100 complete strangers with the aim of making contacts is not something that has ever filled me with joy. However, as a first-timer, the reception I was given by AQR and QRCA made it easy to start conversations. For other conference first-timers, I would highly recommend stepping off the networking cliff and just giving it a go. Bring stacks of business cards and be prepared to start sharing your ideas and research practices with others. Do so and you’ll get so much back in return.

The Findings

But what about the presentations themselves? They provided a myriad of different interpretations of the conference theme ‘Stay Curious’. Standout presentations came from qual-at-scale platform Remesh and Acacia Avenue (both of which won the Sabena McLean Best Presentation Award). The speakers demonstrated a variety of approaches to the topic. These ranged from practical tips which I could see being implemented in my own research straight away, to more thought-provoking ideas and concepts.

Here are some of the standout ideas for me:

Borrowing from Surrounding Disciplines
Some of the most thought-provoking research ideas and approaches were borrowed from different disciplines. This is particularly true with regards to the communication and presentation of research ideas. Relish Research shared inspiring and practical tips about the principles of Method Acting. The technique, used by actors as diverse as Daniel Day-Lewis to James Dean, relies on the practitioner ‘becoming’ a character and completely immersing themselves in their emotions. Relish showed how adapting this method for research purposes could be used to bring clients closer to their audiences. First by setting clients a brief with the characteristics and practical limitations of their audience (budget, childcare etc.), they could be briefed to do anything from role play scenarios in workshops or shopping as their customer. The real benefit of this approach is that your clients can discover their own insights by becoming their target customer.

Prioritise Culture
Alex Gordon from Sign Salad called for cultural understanding to hold a more central role in research. To borrow the words of the writer Toni Morrison, the job of a culture expert is: “to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar." Culturally driven brand thinking allows researchers to identify and interpret where it will sit in the changing cultural future. Gordon highlighted Grant McCracken’s book, Chief Culture Officer, which calls for big organisations to create a position for a "person who knows culture, both its fads and fashions, and its deep, enduring structures."

Roben Allong at Lightbeam Communications highlighted how cultural bias or blindness towards questions of identity and culture need to be addressed by researchers as a matter of urgency. Cases like H&M’s Monkey sweatshirt PR disaster show how cultural blindness can have serious implications for both brand trust and profits. As researchers, we should always be considering the context and background of our interactions and analysis. For example, in the increasingly important new language of emojis, the Princess icon has a completely different meaning to African American women vs. Caucasian women. This is important because it is a qualitative researcher’s task to gain an intimate understanding of the target audience’s culture and language trends. Becoming culturally literate is of vital importance if we are to truly help our clients.

Thinking Critically about Your Biases
The age-old problem of avoiding bias in our fieldwork through the ‘research effect’ is still prevalent. In South Africa, Lesley Croskery of In Focus Qualitative Research talked about the potential negative implications of observing or moderating as a white researcher in black households. She advised being constantly aware of the effect your presence has on fieldwork. This could be as simple as minimising the number of observing clients to properly managing expectations about the research with participants. There are also extra considerations in a bilingual country like South Africa. Appraise not just whether conducting fieldwork in English will make research easier but whether moderating in the language they use at home would make participants feel more comfortable and open to discussion.

Both in the structure of the conference and the range of topics covered, my experience in Valencia truly embodied the topic of Stay Curious. Come with an open mind and prepared to be inspired!

Visit qrca.org/YPG to learn more about the Young Professionals Grant.

Tags:  AQR  QRCA  QRCA Young Professional Grant  qualitative research  Worldwide Conference on Qualitative Research 

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QRCA’s Elevate & Cultivate: The Experience & The Learnings

Posted By Amye Parker, Northstar Research Partners, Friday, February 9, 2018

Amye Parker is a 2018 QRCA Young Professionals Grant recipient. First launched in 2014, the Young Professionals Grant recognizes promising qualitative researchers aged 35 and younger with free passes to the QRCA’s Annual Conference.

Upon receiving the news that I was one of 15 people to receive a Young Professionals Grant from the QRCA to attend the annual conference ‘Elevate & Cultivate’ I was immediately excited — because I never win anything! However, the qualitative researcher inside me began to ask questions:

  • How should I prepare for Elevate & Cultivate?
  • What would the conference involve?
  • How would I avoid awkward networking situations?
  • What would I learn? 

Preparing for Elevate & Cultivate
Every first-timer gets paired with a seasoned conference goer who helps prepare for the conference. I quickly received an email introducing me to my ‘ambassador’, Kate Wagenlander Watson. She sent me lots of tips, answered all my questions, and even met me at 8 am on the first day of the conference. Kate was genuinely invested in making sure I had a good time.

The Conference
The conference contained the perfect balance of big-thinking seminars, participatory round-table discussions, and practical frameworks with highly applicable tips. The biggest surprise I had was how collaborative everyone was. Despite theoretically being competitors, everyone was forthcoming in offering advice and best practices.

Avoiding Awkward Networking
Everyone at the conference was welcoming and several social events also helped me meet others. A ‘speed dating’ session for all 55 First-Timers and their ambassadors was a great way to connect with people quickly. The dinner sponsored by the YP SIG attracted 30+ young researchers, resulting in fun times with great people. I left Phoenix with new friends, and renewed excitement about research.

The Learnings
The conference gave me a lot of inspiring thoughts and practical tips that I could apply right away. Here are six key things that stood out to me from Elevate & Cultivate:

  • Recruit Via Social Media

Recruiting high-quality research participants is becoming harder due to overly targeted criteria and professional participants. Tony Gentes of The Palmerston Group demonstrated the value of using social media outlets like Instagram, Meetup.com and Tinder. Using these outlets, recruitment is based on behavioural data and participants are less saturated with research.

  • Tri-angulate Insight Streams

Our research doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and our clients are inundated with information. Tamara Kenworthy of On Point Strategies showed the value of using secondary and quant data to complement qual in designing buyer personas. The Qually Award finalists also included expert insight in their proposals to complement consumer findings. By looking beyond our own primary research, we gain a holistic view, and can thus provide more strategic and nuanced insight.

  • Leverage Behavioural Economics Frameworks

A well-planned methodology is critical but insights can fall flat without the right questions. Lauren McCrae of Lux Insights shared a case study on using the COM-B framework to generate hypotheses and research questions. Behavioural Economic approaches can even be used in client workshops and ideation sessions. These frameworks offer great value in unpacking the sub-conscious drivers of behaviour and can help us understand the barriers

  • Lose Yourself in Moderation

We hear from people how ‘easy’ moderation seems, but anyone who’s in the job knows better. Naomi Henderson of RIVA Market Research engaged us in a highly relatable keynote speech on this topic, revisiting fundamentals and sharing encouraging (and hilarious) anecdotes. The power of System 1 thinking was another hot topic, and there were many sessions on projective methods offering case studies on activities like personification, deprivation and visual sorting exercises.

  • Create Experiences, Not Projects

In our overly-stimulated, attention-starved society, we are researchers and entertainers. Qually Award winners Lauren McCrae and Nicole Aleong of Lux Insights stood out by injecting videos and personality into their pitch. Daniel Berkal of The Palmerston Group inspired us to look beyond our industry for inspiration to elevate our research. For example, could we emulate the high-energy fun experienced at amusement parks? Crafting research that people want to be part of allows participants to open up, researchers to gain richer insight, and clients to be more engaged in the research.

  • Socialising Insight & Delivering Compelling Results

Clients are time-strapped and attention-poor. Therefore, our research needs to work hard to find longevity. Jennifer Spainhour and Martha Gordon led a heavily attended session on analysis and report writing hacks full of practical tips. In his masterclass, Berkal advised on the importance of keeping output top-of-mind throughout research design to ensure you deliver compelling insights. As a socialising tool, video cannot be under-estimated – it’s quick, visual and immersive, which drives results more deeply into our clients’ minds.

Visit qrca.org/YPG to learn more about the Young Professionals Grant.

Tags:  QRCA Annual Conference  QRCA Young Professional Grant  qualitative research 

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A First-Timer's Perspective: QRCA Annual Conference

Posted By Leigh Wright, Bad Babysitter Productions, Thursday, February 8, 2018

Leigh Wright is a 2018 QRCA Young Professionals Grant recipient. First launched in 2014, the Young Professionals Grant recognizes promising qualitative researchers aged 35 and younger with free passes to the QRCA’s Annual Conference.

“Funny thing is, we have no social lives,” said a lady at my lunch table. Everyone laughed heartily, but I did only slightly. I am emerging into the qualitative field and as a research consultant. I’ve worked as a Director of Brand Strategy for six years, building internal marketing departments, looking through ad stacks, etc. The QRCA 2018 annual conference was one of the best — if not the best — places for an introduction.

All conferences are about teaching and education and professional accolades and training. QRCA is different because attendees come for the people and education is lagniappe (New Orleans’ slang for “an extra little gift”) or to support their peers’ work. As consultants, we do not get out and about to see one another during the year, so the QRCA holds a dedicated, sacred spot on the calendars of many.

Needless to say, I arrived in Phoenix with little knowledge of the QRCA, its benefits, the people, or the structure of the conference. To say I am blown away by the supportive structure of the community is an understatement.

From a beginner’s standpoint I found the talks from Naomi Henderson, Susan Abbott, Marta Villanueva, et al., all very enlightening and critical to understanding where I will find my niche in this industry. There were a lot of moderating tools discussed and quite frankly the point of creative flashcards was hammered home. Tory Gentes’ presentation on online recruiting was spot on. I’ve only done bespoke recruitment and have used online platforms to do so. (You would be surprised at how many preschool teachers are part-time babysitters through Care.com.)

The sessions I found the most insightful were about client presentation, online recruiting, business development, and behavioral economics. This is partly because I have done little moderating, but I believe presenting a variety of sessions is impactful. As Jim Bryson said one day during the conference, “It’s not ‘do we need another moderator.’ We need another good researcher.” So, let’s stick with the holistic approach. I believe it is working.

The roundtable discussions were fantastic and I enjoyed Peter Totman’s talk on Failure. There were so many going on at once and I did find it hard to choose which to attend.

In terms of the Young Professionals Grant, I am forever indebted to the sponsors of this program. Without them I would not have known about the QRCA, I would not have attended this year’s conference, and I would not have met the other YPs who I now consider friends. I will consider that week in Phoenix as a career milestone and springboard.

I’m sure others have tried to convey what makes QRCA special, and my words will fall short just like all the rest. The only thing left to say is thank you, and see you in Savannah.

Visit qrca.org/YPG to learn more about the Young Professionals Grant.

Tags:  QRCA Annual Conference  QRCA Young Professional Grant  qualitative research 

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