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.
QRCA Reporter on the Scene:
QRCA Annual Conference
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Posted By Annette Esquibel,
Friday, March 29, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, March 27, 2019
Annual Conference Reporter on the Scene: Step Back to Move Forward: Developing Customer Journey Maps
I came to the 2019 QRCA Annual Conference with diverse experiences, an interest in qualitative research, a love of people, and a lack of direction. I’m not going to say that attending the 3-day conference at the end of January magically fixed all my professional woes, but I will say that it gave me the resources, a community, and a direction that I had been looking for.
Before attending, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I had undergone a career pivot a year before and had been feeling my way through the research world largely on my own. Don’t get me wrong, I had been networking my booty off, attending workshops, getting certifications and generally making a name for myselfbut it turns out I had siloed myself into one small niche of the research world without realizing it. Luckily, during this time, I met Janet Standen, an amazing qually and big advocate for QRCA who encouraged me look into the upcoming conference. Boy, am I glad I did! Participating in the QRCA Annual Conference opened my eyes to the abundance of opportunities in the qualitative research world. I was able to find more in terms of a network, career directional opportunities, and resources in three days than I had found in a year of searching on my own.
Using the Young Professionals Roundtable to learn from each other's experiences and strategize solutions. Photo by Annette Esquibel
Another “a-ha” moment in the works courtesy of genuine and ample networking opportunities. Photo courtesy of Babbletype
The conference was chockfull of diverse learning opportunities:
- Conference Sessions: There were a variety of conference sessions focused on five themes: honing methodologies, expanding thinking, refreshing convention, building business, and tackling technology. There were sessions that could be of value whether you were a novice or expert, and with videos and materials from each session available after the conference, you didn’t have to worry about missing out on something incredible.
- Roundtables: Presentations not your thing? There were also multiple small group and roundtable sessions to participate in. The Young Professionals Roundtable, called The Young Professional Exchange: Career and Life Hacks to Super Charge Your Growth, may have been my favorite learning opportunity. Recognizing that my peers face similar concerns and issues in our professional pursuits was reassuring and I gleaned actions from the solution-focused discussion that I am still applying in my day-to-day.
- Case Studies: Tired of only hearing about things in theory? Then the case studies presented by the Qually Awards finalists were for you! With a real-world challenge set, these researchers presented pitches of creative, thorough, and diverse methodologies.
- Exposure to Tools & Vendors: The marketplace was always an interesting place to spend a break. Seeing all the tools and vendors that are available to us as researchers on exhibit was very helpful in figuring out the most effective way to work.
- Structured & Informal Networking: Last but certainly not least: the people! As a Young Professionals Grant winner, we were given multiple scheduled events to get to know each other. And what a great group of professionals to be a part of. I also learned a ton just through conversations with other attendees. Coffee breaks, meals, evenings out, and even chats in the lobby led to a-ha moments and genuine connections that are invaluable. QRCA is made up of qualitative researchers of all walks including independent consultants, researchers at agencies and in-house researchers so there was never a lack of interesting people to get to know! Speaking of interesting people - let’s talk about the First Timers program for new conference attendees. Ambassadors are available for all first-time attendees and help make your time at the conference more productive and less stressful. I was lucky enough to be paired with Kate Wagenlander Watson, a QRCA rockstar and overall amazing human being. Before the conference, I connected with Kate and we created a game plan to make sure I was able to get the most out of my time in Savannah.
The beauty is that I know attending the conference is just the tip of the iceberg. Since the Young Professionals Grant includes a year membership to the QRCA, I have access to all the online archives of past discussions, blogs, and articles as well as current posts, newsletters and webinars. The online community is a welcome and welcoming resource that I am so excited to put to use. I am joining my local chapter as well as Special Interest Groups (SIGs) to continue building my community and engage in learning that I am especially interested in. Plus, I can continue to grow my toolkit and support this great organization through the ample leadership and volunteer opportunities available. Really, the only thing limiting how much I can be involved is myself.
An amazing breakfast for the Young Professionals Grant winners served as a warm introduction for the group. Photo courtesy of Shannon Danzy
In case it isn’t clear yet, the people are what make QRCA and its annual conference so great. I was absolutely floored by the genuinely collaborative and supportive attitude of the members I met. One phrase I heard that perfectly describes their attitude is “There’s plenty of room in the sandbox.” While many of my past conference experiences have been tinged by an undercurrent of competitiveness and transactionality,that was not at all the feel of this gathering. I am confident in saying that because of the YP grant, I am now a member of a community. I have found kindred spirits that are more than willing to act as mentors and friends in years to come. I am confident that this network will be integral in finding my niche in the wild world of qualitative research.
Comradery was abundant from the get-go with both first-time attendees and long-standing members. Photo courtesy of Babbletype
So, thank you QRCA for welcoming me into your fold and for providing the generous Young Professionals Grant that made it possible for me to attend. I’m so excited to continue my qualitative research journey as part of this amazing community. If you are questioning the value of joining QRCA, are starting out in the research world, or would like to hear more about the annual conference and funding opportunities, please reach out! See you all in Austin in 2020!
Anthropologist turned research strategist, Annette’s global experience is based in people-centered research aiming to do the most good possible. Currently located in Minnesota, she is now an active member of QRCA and invites you to connect.
LinkedIn: Annette Esquibel
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Posted By Vidhika Bansal,
Monday, February 25, 2019
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2019
Vidhika Bansal is a 2019 QRCA Young Professionals Grant recipient. First launched in 2014, the Young Professionals Grant helps advance promising young qualitative researchers’ careers by providing access to networking and educational sessions via a free pass to the QRCA’s Annual Conference plus a one-year membership. Visit qrca.org/YPG to learn more.
What often makes quallies like us different from the rest of the world is our collective curiosity, empathy, and ability to transform our knowledge of people’s needs and experiences into strategic direction. Given that the QRCA’s Annual Conference is run and attended by quallies, it’s no surprise then that it’s not your average conference.
My week in Savannah at the 2019 Conference, Charting Your Best Course, was jam-packed and enriching in so many ways. As if the delicious Southern food and relaxing river views weren’t enough, here are three reasons why the QRCA Conference stands out in my mind:
Dessert following a scrumptious meal at a local Savannah restaurant, seconds before I devoured it
Networking Made Palatable
As consultants, networking is not just an add-on marketing strategy; it’s practically a necessity. Quite unfortunately though, for many—myself included—networking has almost become a dirty word. It tends to conjure up flashbacks of awkward interactions with strangers, insincere exchanges of pleasantries, and general anxiety and dread. Thankfully, the QRCA conference helps change that.
High friendliness quotient: One thing I learned in almost no time is that QRCA folks are among the friendliest you’ll meet. Perhaps it’s because most of us talk and listen to people for a living, but striking up conversations with fellow conference-goers was refreshingly easy and felt far more authentic than I had expected. The various ribbons added to everyone’s name tags made finding common ground and making connections even easier (especially as a first-timer and YPG recipient). And if you’re shy, have no fear—it’ll just be a matter of time before someone approaches you and breaks the ice!
Stress-free socializing: The organizers orchestrated events that further facilitated pain-free networking, especially if you’re a “first-timer” who has never attended before. First-timers are paired with “ambassadors”, who are QRCA conference veterans that can serve as familiar faces and guides throughout (shout out to my wonderful ambassador, Regina!). There was also a “speed dating” event for first-timers where we got to meet with other ambassadors, and as YPG recipients we were able to connect with fellow early/mid-career quallies at the fun, laidback, young-professionals-only breakfast and dinner events.
(Pro-tip: Remember to bring stacks and stacks of business cards with you—you’ll need them to give to all the new people you’ll meet in quick succession as well as for the vendor raffles!)
My conference badge, adorned with a couple of colorful ribbons that helped break the ice
Stellar, Actionable Content
One of the main goals of attending any conference is usually to leave with takeaways that you can apply to your work immediately—and the sessions at this one definitely did not disappoint.
Insights about insights: There were so many fantastic talks that it’s not practical for me to list them all right now, but these were some of my favorites.
- Carmen Simon’s very memorable keynote on using learnings from neuroscience to craft content that sticks, especially by relying on familiar mental models
- Lisa Lipkin’s engaging anecdotes depicting how to best elicit honest stories from others to learn about them, and how to find “magic in the mundane”
- Allison Rak’s uber-practical hacks for boosting research and reporting efficiency
- Liz George’s window into using role-play to glean rich insights when ethnographic methods are not an option due to ethical and logistical constraints
- Laurie Tema-Lyn’s entertaining workshop on improv exercises as a research tool
FOMO no mo’: With so many intriguing sessions going on in parallel (and without a Time-Turner allowing us to be in multiple places at the same time, a la Hermione Granger), it can sometimes be a challenge to choose which presentation to attend. Luckily, starting this year, all presentations were recorded so attendees could go back and watch them even after the conference was over. On top of that, there were “Reporters on the Scene” taking notes during each session, and those curated notes will be published for those who would prefer reading summaries of sessions they missed over watching full videos. Knowing that I would be able to watch the talks I couldn’t attend in-person saved me a ton of indecision.
(Pro-tip that a few kind members shared with me: If you’re struggling to decide between talks, check out the downloadable presentation decks in advance to give you a sense of which one of the alternatives might be most up your alley.)
Something for everyone: There were talks on a vast variety of topics, including proposal writing, storytelling, recruiting methods, journey mapping, projective techniques, usability testing, and even behavioral science. In addition to the breadth of subject matter, I appreciated the mix of formats in which content was shared, ranging from informal roundtable discussions to vendor exhibits to structured presentations of tools and frameworks.
Being silly at the Young Professionals Dine-Around (Thank you to Shannon Danzy for the photo!)
Finding Your Tribe
Last, but certainly not least, if I had to sum up what makes the QRCA Conference unique, it would be the unmatched sense of community. Cheesy at it sounds, attending the conference felt more like joining a big, happy family than just congregating with a group of like-minded professionals.
Come for the learnings, stay for the people: Valuable content is no doubt important, but the people you meet at the QRCA Conference are just as important, if not more so. Even though technically attendees could view each other as competitors, I noticed that the environment was overwhelmingly collaborative, with knowledge-sharing and camaraderie aplenty. There are even special interest groups (SIGs) to further hone in on people who share your specific interests (for me, it was the Ethnography, Creativity + Ideation, and UX SIGs). With the QRCA, one thing seems to be true: you get as much as you give.
Hugs, not handshakes: “We’re huggers,” I heard someone say on my first day at the conference. I looked around and—lo and behold—it was true. Not only did people greet each other with a genuine excitement to reconnect, but the good vibes weren’t confined to conference hours. Pre-conference mornings began with “healthy connections”, where passionate QRCA volunteers led dance and meditation sessions to get us started for the day. How cool is that?! Similarly, conference evenings ended with group “dine-arounds”, where we got to reclaim the calories worked off in the morning by indulging at local restaurants—a great way to continue conversations, meet new people, and ensure you always had company for dinner. This personal touch is what makes the QRCA such a special organization.
Needless to say, I’m truly grateful and honored to have been a recipient of the QRCA Young Professionals Grant. Without it, I likely would not have attended this year’s conference, and in turn would have missed out on all of these amazing benefits.
Thanks to the generosity of the grant sponsors and dedication of the event organizers, I left Savannah with fresh insights, a renewed view on networking, and even some new friends. Looking forward to next year’s conference in Austin and hope to see you there!
Vidhika Bansal is a UX strategist with a background in behavioral science, brand marketing, and human-centered design. She’s passionate about using the power of words and people’s stories to make product and service experiences the best that they can be. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.
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Posted By Sonya Shen,
Thursday, February 21, 2019
Updated: Friday, February 15, 2019
Forsyth Park, Savannah, Georgia
Sonya Shen is a 2019 QRCA Young Professionals Grant recipient. First launched in 2014, the Young Professionals Grant helps advance promising young qualitative researchers’ careers by providing access to networking and educational sessions via a free pass to the QRCA’s Annual Conference plus a one-year QRCA membership. Visit qrca.org/YPG to learn more.
Selected Conference Swag
I won a QRCA Young Professionals Grant to the 2019 QRCA Annual Conference, “Charting Your Best Course.” I just returned from spending three packed days in Savannah, Georgia learning from and connecting with other qualitative researchers.
Young Professionals Grant (YPG) Winners Received VIP Service
In October 2018, I learned that I had been awarded a YPG. I had been wanting to focus my career more on qualitative research, and winning the grant was the impetus that I needed to start making my ideas a reality. I immediately felt taken care of: YPG winners received communications leading up to the conference about events geared towards First Time Attendees and Young Professionals. I was also paired up with my own conference ambassador, Susan Sweet of Sweet Insight Group, who helped me prepare for and navigate the conference by sharing tips and introducing me to other attendees. I felt welcomed and prepared even before setting foot in Savannah.
The Conference Schedule Was Packed with Events and Sessions
I recommend planning out which sessions to attend before heading to the conference. The conference app was also helpful in the moment in figuring out where to go next (always a challenge at conferences!). A nice bonus I appreciated is that all sessions are available for viewing after the conference so attendees have less angst about missing a presentation. My FOMO turned to JOMO when I realized I could take a guilt-free break outside to recharge. I treated myself to a walk to Chippewa Square, made famous by the movie Forrest Gump (spoiler alert: there is no bench in the square, it was just there for the movie).
Qually Award Finalist Presentations
The three finalists for the Qually Award presented their proposals and took questions in front of a live and discerning audience. It was clear that a lot of preparation went into the proposals. I was impressed by the amount of camaraderie and openness to sharing that I saw.
Dr. Carmen Simon of Memzy delivered a keynote presentation on “The Neuroscience of Memorable Messages”. We learned about memory and the fact that people only remember 90% of what was shared with them after two days. Dr. Simon discussed how to make messages more memorable and how to get people to act on a message (such as if you offer a slight twist, it will bring the brain back to the present).
Laurie Tema-Lyn’s session on the topic of “Using Theater Games in Research” demonstrated how to use different techniques to meet a variety of research objectives. I learned how to set the stage so that researchers, respondents, and clients are all comfortable using more out-of-the-box methods such as World Salad, Improv/Role-play, and Theater of Exaggeration. The session allowed me to think creatively, practice my active listening skills, and give myself permission to try new things.
Lisa Lipkin presented on the topic of “Go from Facts to Truth with Neuroscience and Storytelling,” where she encouraged us to “make magic out of the mundane” when we are eliciting stories from respondents. Her tips included seeing the story in everything because what we store in our memories is most meaningful, and everything and everyone has a story. Lisa also encouraged us to dig deeper and be an “emotion detective,” as fact is not truth. Start with the emotion, then hang the facts on it.
Zebra Strategies’ Denene Rodney and Sharon Arthur’s session on “Ensuring Real Diversity in Qualitative Research” examined the role of the researcher as clients’ stewards to educate, guide, and safeguard them, and to better customize marketing messaging that consider cultural nuance. It shared actionable tips of how to ensure personal and collective accountability, accounting for bias, and ethical considerations. I walked away with strategies on how to exemplify this topic by being honest about what I do and don’t know, figuring out how to get answers if I don’t know something, expanding my network, developing empathy and curiosity, and to not run and to not hide.
“Opening Closed Doors with Role-Play” by Elizabeth George of Market Strategies was a deep dive into how to use role-play in research. While ethnography is the gold standard, barriers abound, such as in doctor/patient interactions. Liz walked us through the logistics of a particular type of role-play in which doctors are the respondents, actors are hired to play the patients who interact with the doctors, and the researchers are the facilitators. There was a great deal of information, and I felt like I was equipped to implement this strategy if I wanted to.
Networking Was Plentiful
I highly recommend attending a conference where most attendees are great at asking questions and where organizers are skilled at facilitating experiences. This conference checked both boxes. There were plenty of opportunities to meet other attendees and connect over shared interests. Highlights Include:
- The First Timers Event: This was set up like a speed dating event where First Timers meet non-First Timer attendees. All the fun with none of the awkward rejection!
- The Young Professionals Dine-Around Dinner: I connected with other Young Professionals at a restaurant in downtown Savannah. Topics of discussion were varied – from career to food, to kangaroos (friend or foe?).
- Thursday Night Event at Kevin Barry’s Irish Pub: A giant get-together for everyone at the conference which included First Timers Bingo (Tip: maximize your time in the food line by asking passers-by if they can help you cross off a bingo square).
- The Young Professional Exchange: Career and Life Hacks to Supercharge Your Growth (Roundtable): Young Professionals convened to discuss solutions to problems they commonly face. One of the many takeaways I left with was to lean into what sets me apart as a researcher.
- Optional Chapter Meetings: I got the opportunity to meet other qualitative researchers in my area over breakfast.
As a First Timer, I felt completely at ease while networking. The conference size was manageable, and it felt heartening to see that so many other attendees knew each other and were catching up.
There are Many Opportunities to Stay Involved After the Conference
As a winner of the YPG, I was also awarded a one-year QRCA membership. I am already signed up to attend the next SF QRCA Chapter Meeting and plan on volunteering in some capacity. There are many opportunities to stay plugged in through the QRCA forum, through a SIG (Special Interest Group), or with a committee.
Bonus “Wow” Moment: Doing chair yoga with a view overlooking the Savannah River.
The 2019 QRCA Conference was a wonderful learning and networking experience. Thank You to the QRCA and Young Professionals organization for organizing the conference and awarding me a YPG. Hope to see you next year in Austin!
Sonya Shen, Independent Research Consultant
Sonya is a Researcher, Storyteller, and Yoga Teacher located in the San Francisco Bay Area.