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30 Years of QRCA
30th anniversary qrca

Our 30th Anniversary Story

QRCA's 30th Anniversary in 2013 was commemorated by Judy Langer as she recalled the organization's origins and compared qualitative research in 1983 to 2013. Thirty years marks a major milestone for QRCA. The organization is established, respected and international in scope, with nearly 1000 members on all continents. At the same time, it is one of the newest research organizations – so it is both mature and young.

30 years qrca founders

QRCA grew out of small, informal gathering of qualitative researchers in Manhattan at Dresner’s restaurant in the east 80’s. The invitation came from Judy Langer, who thought it odd that she knew more clients than kindred qualitative researchers; respondent recruiting problems also triggered the desire to bring fellow "qualies” together. Several invitees mentioned the meeting to others. Among the attendees were Kathryn Alexander, J.R. Harris, Frank Kennedy, Sharon Livingston, Leon Shiffman, George Silverman and Bernadette Tracy.

"Why should we work together when we’re competitors?” This question was raised and (fortunately) quickly discarded in favor of collaborating. Participants were pleased and surprised by the warm sharing among like-minded professionals that continues today. Meetings were held in members’ apartments, chaired by rotating moderators. Within a year QRCA had a name, a formal organization with structure and purpose. Its official announcement was made October 19, 1983 at an AMA Qualitative Research panel discussion at the NYC Grand Hyatt Hotel and via press release. Founding members consisted of 26 researchers from the New York metro area.

Watch the 30th Anniversary Celebration Video:

Watch the 30th Anniversary Reunion Video:

What’s happened to qualitative research in the 30 years?


  • Qual was rarely mentioned in research publications or at conferences. When it was, "the use and abuse of qualitative research” (emphasis on abuse) was a typical topic.
  • Qual meant in-person focus groups and, to a lesser extent, depth interviews. Some QLRs (qualitative researchers) did observations of how consumers use products beforehand to educate themselves, but these weren’t approached formally or called "ethnography.” Telephone depths were just for "executives,” since it was assumed that ordinary consumers would be too uncomfortable in this medium.
  • Respondents were often friends of the recruiter, friends of friends and women rounded up at church groups (the church received the incentive). Qual was just a minor sideline for field services.
  • Women were interviewed during the day ($7.50 incentive) and men at night ($10). Life was easier for clients and qualies – they got to go home for dinner – but the research was definitely skewed by leaving out employed women.
  • Many focus groups were held in recruiters’ homes. (Memorably, sounds of the supervisor’s dog drinking out of the toilet accompanied a discussion of upset stomachs in the downstairs basement.) Early formal facilities often left much to be desired. Some examples: rooms with loud noises coming from a bowling alley and a ballroom dance studio above; viewing rooms that had to be entered before respondents came in, trapping observers until the end of the sessions ("bathroom, bathroom,” one cried when the door opened).
  • Technology was very limited. Large, clunky reel-to-reel tape recorders were used, videotaping was rare. (A session with high-level executives held at a luxury hotel in Manhattan went unrecorded because of the old-fashioned DC current.)


  • Qual is taken seriously as providing the depth of understanding often lacking in surveys.
  • A number of conferences are devoted to qual – in addition to QRCA’s, ones by major organizations like the MRA and ESOMAR. QRCA and the AQR (Association for Qualitative Research) in Britain hold joint biannual conferences.
  • Qual methodology has flowered, with many approaches – in person, by phone and, most notably, online – and many new techniques.
  • The backgrounds of QRCs are more varied – client-side research, academia (psychology, the social sciences and many other fields), design consultancies, etc.
  • Recruiting has grown and become more professionalized, with companies that have massive databases.
  • Many research facilities are highly sophisticated. Settings include conference rooms, home living rooms (again), test kitchens, etc.; viewing rooms are comfortable, even plush.
  • Interviews/sessions can also take place just about anywhere – in participants’ homes, stores, restaurants, cars, offices, etc.
  • High tech is often a part of all phases of high touch qual –participant recruitment, observation, biometrics, recording, video and audio editing, online interviews, analysis and presentations.

After 30 years, QRCA continues to demonstrate that competitors can be collaborative, and to lead in working to raise industry respondent recruitment standards. Beyond the cold facts, QRCA is a beloved research organization. Its annual conference in North America attracts hundreds of members and "qualified non-members” (independent QRCs) from around the world. The generous sharing of wisdom and methodologies, along with the excitement and warmth at the conferences are striking. Newcomers are surprised at the ease and speed with which they fit in. "First-timer” name tags certainly encourage conversation. And, of course, for qual researchers who believe in the value of talk, the conversation never stops.

Founding members: Kathryn Alexander, Nilda Anderson, Myril Axelrod, Annette Bamundo, Ken Berwitz, Blanka Eckstein, Fay Ennis, Gerie Feldman, Sid Furst, Judith Gediman, Bonnie Goebert, Sandra Golden, Warren Goldman, J.R. Harris, Marilyn Landis Hauser, Frank Kennedy, Judy Langer, Sharon Livingston, Hy Mariampolski, Irv Merson, Susan Newton, Leon Schiffman, George Silverman, Gina Thorne, Heidi Washburn, Bill Weylock.

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