In this engaging session at the 2020 QRCA Annual Conference, Oana Popa Rengle carefully built a framework around how board games can be used to generate (and not just communicate) insights.
Oana identified four main ways in which board games very naturally create an environment that can be conducive to unearthing real insights:
Intimacy and connections – we tend to play board games with friends and family, so there can typically be a circle of trust around board game players.
They encourage bluffing, deceit, creativity, etc. which are all elements that can be leveraged as strong tools to generate insight.
There is a certain element of physicality about board games. In this highly digitized world, board games can bring back a fresh approach – players must either roll the dice or move pieces while playing board games. It could implicitly grant them more freedom in expressing themselves, which could result in richer insights.
There is a level of ownership that comes with board games. Players can bend (or even break!) rules, they can create their own “house rules”.
Board games gives us a potentially novel way to give respondents control over the research process. They can tell their stories in their own ways, which can be quite powerful. Drawing on these four characteristics, researchers can transform a traditional focus group session into an engaging board game.
Key Session Takeaways
This was a session rich in content and lessons, and as such, there were many takeaways. Here are some of the critical ones:
Oana was advocating for game-based research, and not gamification. This means that for board games to work, researchers need to have a mental model of the subject of inquiry – or at the very least, a mental model of how human motivation works. This mental model then needs to lend itself to a game-based format. Researchers will need to have a strong narrative underpinning the game and may find themselves needing to rethink their approach to posing questions and getting answers.
Any board game needs to be competitive. This means participants "earn" points and they need to go through conditions that require them to "spend" their points to advance to the next stage. This creates a powerful "pain of payment" moment and forces them to make real choices about what they really need, and what they can live without – a tactic that can certainly be helpful when trying to determine what features are important in a product.
Researchers can also take this opportunity to have their clients play against the players, especially in cases where in order to proceed to the next stage, or earn resources, players are required to highlight things that frustrate them about client products. This can create a powerful moment of empathy, where clients can firsthand experience the voice of their customer and see what it feels like to be a consumer of their products.
There can potentially be limitations – a focus group format can provide opportunities for the moderator to dig deep into a participant observation/opinion, until it turns into insight. In a board game, a participant might make an interesting (or a highly promising) observation, but the chance to dive deeper into that observation may be very limited. One potential way around this limitation may be to create a "bonus" card or a bonus choice, where participants are able to earn additional resources for elaborating further on that observation.
Board games are a great opportunity to bring fun. Laughter can break the ice, and in building a shared, trusting environment, can create a pathway to insight.
I really enjoyed Oana’s unique presentation, so much so that I couldn’t limit my “aha-moment” to just one.
Oana’s simple yet deeply powerful understanding of the insight generation process made this session one of the best at this year’s QRCA conference. This quote in particular, will always be something I come back to – "Insight isn't always buried in depths. Sometimes, it is just at the surface, waiting for someone to find that connection."
It was absolutely ingenious the way in which Oana brought in an element of play into the presentation itself – using red and green glowsticks to make the audience indicate their preferences. It brought laugher, a certain level of excitement, and was a live demonstration of how that element of play made a 50+ strong audience communicate their real preference (i.e, they would much rather hear Oana talk about board games than engage in an activity – which goes against most presenters’ initial hypotheses about engaging audiences).
This session really had me thinking through how a board game format can potentially be used to test messages. It truly was an incredible session that took the exact opposite route of digitization – and instead focused on something so fundamentally human – play!
Remote Research in the Time of Coronavirus (COVID-19)
With offices mandating employees to work from home, and people across the world hunkering down, researchers everywhere are scrambling to figure out how to make it all work from their home offices.
I’ve been doing remote research out of my home for years, so I thought I’d share a few tips and tricks from my own remote-research arsenal!
In-office conversations with colleagues: Try Slack
For all conversations, whether it’s discussions about business strategy, sharing ideas on research plans, or sharing random funny articles online, we use Slack. Slack enables us to have many fluid conversations at once, and to organize conversations by topic (such as #customer-discussions, #finance-accounting, #strategy).
Communication with participant recruits: Try Intercom
Rather than using email or a group email, consider using a CRM to communicate with research participants. I have used Intercom as a CRM and have found it incredibly helpful as a way to keep track who we reached out to for which study, and to keep a log of all the communication we’ve had so far with each recruit. It allows my team members to see the previous conversations and take over for me if necessary (something that’s nearly impossible in email). If Intercom doesn’t work for your particular client, consider checking out other group CRMs to solve the same problem.
Calendly is an incredible streamlined way to have participants schedule time for studies. It syncs directly with your calendar (for us, it’s Google calendar), and you can set parameters for when someone can schedule time. Just send them a link and they can instantly book a time with you.
Zoom is an online video chat service with great video quality that is super easy to use. It can also support video chats with large groups of people if you’re running a study with more than one participant. You can also record the session (make sure to always ask for consent first!)
Compensating participants: Send digital gift cards
Compensate participants by sending digital Amazon gift cards. These will get emailed straight to them. As an additional tip, if you have international recruits in other countries that want a gift card for their local Amazon branch, purchase the gift card from that country’s Amazon site. (For instance, go to https://www.amazon.co.uk/ to send someone an Amazon UK gift card. Amazon gift cards aren’t transferable between countries once purchased.
If you were using Microsoft Word and emailing them around, or printing them out for colleagues to review, it’s time to switch to Google Docs. Google Docs is online and fully collaborative. Colleagues can comment directly in your document and collaboratively write with you in real time.
If you were printing out transcripts and highlighting them using Post-it notes or using desktop based tools like NVivo or ATLAS.ti without online capabilities, consider switching to DelveTool. (Full disclosure, I’m the co-founder so I designed and created this tool out of my own pain points). Now that your research team is working remotely from their homes, DelveTool offers a way for your team to code and analyze a single project together from wherever they are.
If you were using Microsoft PowerPoint, it’s time to consider using Paste. It’s online, fully collaborative, and makes your decks absolutely beautiful with very little effort. It doesn’t have all the power features of PowerPoint, but that’s precisely the benefit. You can create gorgeous slides with just a quote on a single page or drop in a video clip from a research session. You’ll spend significantly less time making the deck and it will look 1000% better than a standard PowerPoint.
Streamlining and automating your process: Try Zapier
Zapier takes a bit of tech tinkering, but is a great way to automate any repetitive, manual tasks that you’re already doing. For example, if you’re keeping track of participant recruitment status in a Google Sheet, you can use Zapier to automatically update that spreadsheet when participants schedule an interview using Calendly.
Best of luck setting up your remote research workspace. If you have any questions or have recommendations that you want to share, please reach out to me!
LaiYee Ho is the co-founder of DelveTool, where she pours her years of experience as a UX researcher and designer into creating tools for researchers. Before beginning her entrepreneurial journey, she was one of the first UX designers of the Amazon Fire TV, where she learned about the importance of simplicity in design. She then went on to build the first UX research team at a smart home automation startup, where she learned how to uncover human motivations. She has a degree in Information Science from Cornell and lives in New York City.
Jenny and Scott’s session was delivered to a packed room at the 2020 QRCA Annual Conference, starting with a warm welcome and quick poll: nearly everyone present currently conducts ethnographies, but only a handful of audience members were familiar with autoethnography. Which sparked an obvious need for a definition.
Autoethnography allows the research participant to also be the researcher, by describing and evaluating cultural experiences, analyzing their stories and engaging with the meaning and emotion in their experiences. Journaling is an oft-used qualitative method and, while like autoethnography, Jenny and Scott highlighted the key differences between the two methods.
They described journaling as more about recording, while autoethnography is about reflection; journaling often captures daily activities, behavioral patterns and functional responses, while autoethnography yields results about the broader cultural context and responses may draw from a longer period of time (e.g. reflecting back to childhood). Another key difference is autoethnography’s encouragement for participants to draw commonalities and conclusions from the other participants involved in the study.
Key Session Takeaways
The topic of autoethnography drew a large crowd of people with little to no experience with the method, indicating a strong interest among researchers to continually evolve our toolbox as researchers. Jenny and Scott did a great job bringing the method to life through their case study, and I especially liked the example autoethnography questions. Their practical checklists and comparison tables demonstrated how elements of autoethnography could easily be applied to the online qualitative research that many quallies are already conducting.
During the session, Jenny and Scott brought autoethnography to life through sharing the results of a recent case study. Seeing autoethnography in action helped highlight how I could utilize this tool in my own practice! This was especially evident when we saw the results of a comparison in journaling responses and autoethnography responses, with autoethnography participants providing more emotion, nostalgia, and long-form answers to the online questions.
Final Comments and Takeaways
The session ended with a lengthy Q&A session, with at least 15 different questions being asked by the audience…the sign of a truly engaging presentation! Key discussions were about recruitment and what screener questions were needed to ensure autoethnography participants had quality writing skills and the ability to reflect/draw meaningful insights from their own stories. Thank you, Scott and Jenny, for an informative session!
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? ;)
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
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.
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-generatedtunes 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
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.
Posted By Isabel Aneyba,
Tuesday, June 25, 2019
Updated: Monday, June 24, 2019
Let’s Work Together: The Consumer Co-Creation Camp
While focus groups have long been a part of the innovation process, many clients have voiced their frustration about the limitations of traditional focus groups. To respond to this and other client needs, we created a methodology called Consumer Co-creation Camp. It is designed to expedite the research process while making it fun and provide a more direct connection between the client and consumers.
We had a client that decided it was time for his company to start an innovative process. This is how he requested the research: “I do not want boring focus groups, I want a fun process like a reality show, where we are looking to discover new things. I do not want to listen to top-of-mind responses, I want a deeper understanding. We want to achieve a year’s worth of research in one comprehensive study: understand the target, create product/brand concepts and evaluate those concepts”
To address this client’s broad request, we facilitated three groups simultaneously in three days to create products and brands with consumers. This process involved multiple stakeholders: the client team, the advertising agency and the consumers. We called this engaging process: The Consumer Co-creation Camp.
At the end of the fieldwork, the client stated: “We clearly know what we need to know to make this product a success in the marketplace”. How did this project provide such clarity and confidence to the client team and agency? In my view, it was the co-creation of compelling consumer-ready ideas. Three successive stages lead them to:
We wanted the participants to get to know one another first, so we asked Millennial participants to introduce themselves using a collage they created prior to the Camp. This set the stage that this process was about the Millennials and about being together. They felt appreciated while they found new friends and were free to use their own colloquial language.
During this process, our clients moved from feeling“I want to hear this and that” to “These people are interesting”” to “This is going to be big”. There was a perception shift because it was the first-time clients had a chance to see how these Millennials saw themselves.
Millennials created new concepts after testing the product. Collages helped participants to articulate their feelings because many times participants do not know how to describe their feelings and emotions. Collages were a springboard to show their feelings and it was a great equalizer, giving them all the opportunity to adapt the product and the brand to themselves. Our clients witnessed how the brand concepts matched Millennials’ needs and personal styles.
This stage motivated the clients the most. The Millennials presented their ideas directly to them, in the same room. The client team and Millennial teams had a vigorous conversation. There was ‘one voice in the room’. Consumers and clients worked in tandem focused on the unifying goal, with no barriers, mirrors or attitudes. After the final presentation, all the clients knew what the final output of the research was!
At the end of the process, three key outcomes would significantly impact product management, the brand vision, and consumer engagement.
Product Management. The global R&D and Marketing team became aligned and felt empowered to make necessary product and packaging changes.
Brand Vision. The client and ad agency gained a deeper understanding of Millennials, their needs, and shared this with the entire corporation. This understanding inspired them to create a new brand vision.
Engagement. The marketing teams learned how Millennials made friends, and this insight helped them to better engage with this target – utilizing a relevant marketing platform.
Even after the camp, the participants’ ideas were referred to constantly by the clients and the agency. Their vivid experiences allowed for crisper memories. The co-creation experience anchored the clients’ understanding on this target audience through a human connection. It was clear how the Co-Creation Camp streamlined the research process, and in the end, saved the client money and time while enhancing their understanding.
Do you believe your corporate clients would value working together with the consumers in a fun, engaging process that yields high quality insights and speedier outcomes?
If so, how can you streamline your next research project to generate compelling consumer -ready ideas? Consumer Co-creation Camp is a great alternative. When empowered and enabled by the research process our experience has shown that Millennials and Clients are happy to embrace the challenge of creating new products and services.
Isabel Aneyba is president and chief insight generator of COMARKA, an Austin, Texas research firm. COMARKA empowers marketers to develop meaningful product and brand ideas with their customers through dialogue. www.comarka.com
Posted By Janet Standen,
Tuesday, June 11, 2019
Updated: Friday, June 7, 2019
Qualitative Research with Employees – Why You Should Be Doing it
If you’re an experienced qualitative researcher and you haven’t done any employee experience research yet, perhaps it’s time you did!
First Things First
Why do I find employee qualitative so rewarding? We spend about a quarter of our life working, so if I can unearth an insight or two that can really make a difference in bettering the experience employees have in the workplace, I’m making a real contribution. By elevating the happiness of people on the job – where they spend so much time – my job seems more worthwhile and – in turn – makes me happier!
When and Why Is Qual Needed?
As is often the case, qualitative is a comfortable (and critical) companion to quantitative research. Most medium to large companies have a comprehensive annual Employee Engagement or Employee Satisfaction Survey – and each year they review the resulting data. Survey questions vary depending on the company, but they are usually around enjoyment, pride, understanding of and fit with the company vision, diversity, management performance, rewards, work/life balance, career development, and so on.
But what happens when the data show a shift or a trend, and no one is quite sure why it’s happening? Or, there’s an unexplained exodus of people; there may be gossip and rumors but no firsthand, deeper understanding about its cause. Exit interviews may or may not get to answers; by this point, the individuals leaving often don’t care enough to help make a difference for the people left behind.
And, what about all those subtle nuances of day-to-day life at work that don’t actually get captured in the big bucket questions? In order to have one standard survey that can be applied across all roles and levels in a company, the survey questions can become so bland – and we all know how dangerous it can be to include honest, open-ended answers if we think it might be possible to track it back to us. This is why qualitative is needed.
Different Roles for Qualitative
To ensure a quantitative survey will provide greatest value, its design is as critical as understanding its output. Qualitative should be used to inform the right questions included in the survey. Qualitative can be invaluable in ensuring the questions are being asked in the right way. Following the survey results, a third use of qualitative is to help explain the reasons for any negative shifts in data, ideally before employees start walking out the door.
Steering Qual. This should come first to ensure that the right questions are asked. Mini-groups are a good way to include a greater number of employees than IDIs, even if it requires some travel. Participants can be cross-functional and cross-level, at least to some degree. The conversations should be informal around key areas that matter to people. The discussion guide should be loosely designed with input from key stakeholders like Directors of Human Resources or Insights, but the moderator should be guided most by the natural direction that each group’s discussion takes. Specifically: what impacts their working environment and success every day; what really matters to people, how much it matters, why it matters. A comprehensive list of topics that impact employee happiness needs to emerge with a good understanding of the right way to think about the topic. Only then should an analysis of the output and learnings translate into a draft survey.
Tune-up Qual. This should come second. Once you have your draft survey, conduct a series of UX IDIs – where respondents think out loud as they take the survey. They need to take place with a range of people in different roles and levels. The survey can iterate throughout the interviews—but once you think it has evolved and been polished to a state of readiness for primetime, do a final 6-8 interviews to ensure it is as good as it needs to be, i.e. has comprehensive and relevant questions for all, that are asked in a clear, easy-to-understand way.
Directions Research. In this next stage, the learning becomes actionable given the benefit of a deeper understanding of the reasons behind shifts in data or behavior. IDIs or mini-groups can be considered, but ideally it’s a combination of the two. The topics up for discussion are driven by the data from the quant. Usually 5-6 topics can be covered in a 90-minute mini-group or a 30-minute IDI.
A great structure once the topics have been carefully introduced is:
What’s working well?
What’s not working so well?
What fears do you have?
What do you wish for?
There is a huge benefit in the research being recruited by an independent recruiter to allow for anonymity and to avoid manager bias of “favorites” being put forward. When moderated by an independent moderator, openness and honesty from participants is encouraged. Employees should be guaranteed anonymity during these sessions, and ideally, a note taker should scribe the session rather than recording it. Reassure individuals that their opinions and experiences will feed into an overview report of themes and that nothing will be attributed to an individual.
Suggestions for change resulting from the research can be grouped into “quick wins” ensuring employees experience the impact of their input, and “longer term challenges” to make sure some of the deeper challenges can be prioritized and tackled by management.
If you haven’t brought your qualitative skills to bear on employee happiness yet, you may want to consider adding it to your “to do” list for the future. You won’t regret it!
Janet Standen is Co-Founder of Scoot Insights, a qualitative provider specializing in helping decision-makers choose a better direction, effectively and efficiently. Her background is in innovation, business strategy and brand positioning.
Posted By Vidhika Bansal,
Thursday, May 30, 2019
Updated: Monday, May 20, 2019
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.
Posted By Lisa Horwich,
Tuesday, April 30, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, April 30, 2019
Why Quallies Should Care about Marketing Technology (MarTech)
The “Rise of the Machines” and how We Got Here.
When I graduated from business school back in the late ‘90s I never dreamed I would become a total tech geek…in fact, I really thought I was going to be a high-powered consultant (think McKinsey, Bain, BCG). Instead, somehow, I found myself implementing large-scale computer systems (fears of Y2K!) and then became a product manager for a small software company. My journey to tech geekdom had begun without me knowing it.
Fast forward to today. After spending much of my time working on quantitative and qualitative research for large tech companies, I can honestly say that I really love learning and studying technology.
With this in mind, about 2 years ago, a prediction from Gartner (the big technology industry research firm) caught my eye – their analyst Laura McLellan predicted that by 2017 CMOs will spend more on technology than CIOs. She was almost correct – it happened in 2016, a year ahead of schedule.
Think about it. Marketing departments are now spending more on information technology than the department that is responsible for a company’s technology infrastructure. Crazy, I know!
This has led to a proliferation of companies clamoring for a piece of this MarTech pie. From 2011 when 150 companies offered MarTech solutions, we are now in 2019 looking at over 7,000 companies competing in this space.
What is the aim of all these solutions? More importantly, what has changed with CMOs to prompt this massive investment in technology? It boils down to three main factors:
Most CMOs now share P&L responsibility. Instead of just being a “cost center,” marketing is looked on as fundamental part of revenue generation.
Marketing funds and designs the entire cross-functional customer experience (CX). If you think of CX holistically from generating awareness through post-sales feedback, it makes sense that marketing is in charge.
Finally – and arguably most importantly – with the soaring costs involved in attracting, maintaining, and growing the customer base, marketing now has to justify the ROI of their activities.
CMOs are turning to data-driven solutions that help them deeply understand every phase of the customer journey – tracking and quantifying the ROI of all marketing activities along this journey. They are also investing heavily into solutions that personalize the customer’s experience with the hope of converting these interactions into greater sales opportunities.
Technology Solutions and Their Uses
As researchers, we need to know the types of technologies where our clients are spending significant portions of their overall budgets (~30%) so we can recognize where we fit as human insight professionals. We don’t have to be experts in tech, just conversant — so when we walk in the door and our clients say they are using a new “Artificial Intelligence email optimization tool,” we understand what that is and can talk about how our services complement and augment this tool.
I’ve put together a few charts and tables outlining some of the fundamental building blocks of these solutions. Most MarTech offerings are powered by technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Business Intelligence, and Real-Time Analytics. I find it useful to see the interaction of these technologies with a chart:
To understand definitions of these technologies and common uses, this table is a quick reference (CAUTION: Tech speak ahead):
Unified customer data platforms, predictive analytics, and contextual customer journey interactions.
Any system that learns from past data to make judgments about previously unseen new data.
Optimize ad campaigns and other metrics, predict churn.
Opportunities for Quallies
Many of the technologies outlined above have inherent limitations – which I like to think of as “opportunities” for qualitative researchers. Most of the limitations center around the data – quality (how good is your data) and quantity (do you have enough of the right type of data). In addition, the other major limitation is having enough marketing content – a major bottleneck in the quest for personalized customer engagement.
Decisions are made solely on data – past and present.
Use the data as a launching point for deeper qualitative analysis.
Existing data is not predictive enough for decision-making.
Create and maintain communities focused on pinpointing predictive behavior.
Need exponentially more messaging content for personalization.
Assist in narrowing target messaging by identifying key characteristics valued by customers.
Insufficient data to train the machine/AI.
Provide personas and other descriptive metrics to help “train” algorithms.
Lack of “industry specific” attributes.
Create detailed feature lists to describe the unique features inherent to that industry.
While the ideas above are great tactical opportunities, strategically, our most important job as qualitative researchers to remind our clients how, in a world of automation, humanizing the experience of individual customers is key to authenticity.
Lisa Horwich is the founder of Pallas Research Associates, a B2B-focused research and consulting firm located in Seattle, WA. She is a self-ascribed tech geek and loves talking to developers, IT decision-makers, and CIOs. She also co-chairs the QRCA B2B SIG.