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The Qually Award

QRCA Qually Award

Qually Award Winners 2019

Congratulations to our 2020 Qually Award Recipients!

At the 2020 QRCA Annual Conference, Leah Lowe and Jillian Domin from Hypothesis Group took home top honors for the 2020 Qually Award.

QRCA Qually Award

Proposal Submissions are Closed.

Get Qually Proposal Information

See Previous Qually Recipients

What is the Qually Award?

Since 2011, the QRCA has found a way to honor our creative problem solvers with a unique industry award, The QRCA Award for Excellence in Qualitative Research. More affectionately known as the “Qually” Award, this award recognizes industry innovation and qualitative best practices.

For more information about the Qually Award, or to join the committee, please email this year's chair at 

Q: I’m interested in submitting a proposal but need a little encouragement.
A: The Qually Award is an excellent opportunity to grow as a qualitative research consultant. It gives you the chance to push your creative and strategic thinking and receive feedback on your approach. In addition to bragging rights, finalists receive discounted conference fees, cash prizes, and promotional opportunities. Also, this year, there is no longer an “all or nothing” top prize. The winner will be awarded $1,000, 2nd place will earn $500, and 3rd place $250 - all based on our peer-based voting platform during the QRCA Annual Conference.

Q: I’m not used to writing a proposal for a faux project. What do I need to know?
A: We hear you! The main idea behind the Qually Award is identifying creative solutions to research objectives. Think in terms of a road-trip, the process you take to GET to your final destination. We’d like to see how you plan to answer the business question leveraging creative qual methodologies. You don’t need to spend time on WHAT the final destination is (meaning the answers the client needs); but the road you’ll travel to get there.

Q: I want to participate, but I’m nervous about my ideas or people knowing about my submission.
A: All proposal submissions are reviewed anonymously. The committee never knows WHO participates, simply who the finalists end up being. We ask in the guidelines to strip the proposal from any company or personal author contact details and Ewald (our marketing agency) proofs the submissions to ensure compliance. So while you are asked your contact details during the process we know who to communicate with eventually. This makes the submissions completely clear of any bias in our review. The committee sees ideas, not authors, so it’s a great atmosphere to try something new.

Q: What would happen if the annual conference goes virtual next year?
A: We will accommodate Qually Award presentations to whichever format the annual conference takes next year. If the conference goes virtual, we would give enough notice to participants so they can prepare to present via conference call. Voting would also be adapted to a virtual format if the conference goes that way.

Q: If I’m selected as a finalist; how does my proposal submission translate to a presentation at the Annual Conference?
A: While in the proposal submission you’re limited to page counts (for evaluation consistency); there is no slide count for the presentation at the annual conference, though you will be limited by a time count. You can elaborate on the main content presented in your proposal, but you cannot introduce any NEW methodologies or ideas in the presentation than what was already included in your proposal. You will also be assigned a Presentation Coach right after the finalist selections who will confirm your presentation and proposal submission are in alignment and offer guidance throughout the process.

Q: One of the new finalist selection criteria is about your expertise. Will you explain this in more detail?
A: While we’ve provided a macro-level overview of a business problem in the RFP, we’d like to see the authors expand on the situation; whether that be additional background information that complements our RFP, rationale for choosing your target audience, or using validated and proven research methodologies. Remember that proposals for the Qually Award are not SELLING individuals or firms, your selling ideas. Aim to convince the committee that your proposed approach / research design is solid.

Past Qually Award Recipients

Leah Lowe and Jillian Domin of the Hypothesis Group received the award for their work on “Lost in Transit,” which responded to a request for proposal aimed at increasing the adoption of mass transit by hypothetically partnering with the city of Seattle and Microsoft. Peers commented that “the use of new ways to present the data, such as perspective camera with 360 views were very cool!” and “their methodology was designed clearly and was offering a comprehensive understanding of the commuting experience.” Download their proposal here.
Congratulations to Meagan Morgan from Heads Up Inc.! She earned the top podium spot during the peer-based voting round for her proposal and research approach in the 2019 Qually Award. Attendees at the 2019 QRCA conference recalled her submission (titled “Getting the Qually Studio Store into Shape”) as being creative, resourceful, and cogent in design. Her winning proposal can be viewed here.
Lauren & Nicole’s Deciphering the Curation Quotient was a response to an RFP submitted by a real client who was seeking to understand the balance between offering a fully-curated shopping experience (à la stuff-in-box) vs. a total self-discovery experience (such as a traditional retail store environment). Lauren & Nicole developed a 3-phase approach involving:

1) Secondary research into reviews of curated boxes, to save budget and inform the development of the discussion guide for Phase 2.

2) Double takes in four cities, each representing a different industry the client was interested in. In a 120-min double take, a group of full-curation fans participates in a traditional 60-min focus group in a facility, while a group of total self-discovery fans watches them live and comments on what they are seeing to one another through chat. In the second hour, the full-curation fans are dismissed, and the total self-discovery fans carry on the conversation as a video focus group. This approach enables us to understand the divergent viewpoints, as the total self-discovery fans are reacting to the full curation fans in real-time.

3) To get closer to the insights, Phase 3 involves a mobile unboxing experience, where total self-discovery participants are sent a curated box, and film themselves opening it.

This year, the winning proposal was selected by audience vote after three finalists pitched their proposals. Lauren & Nicole’s pitch was selected based on its creativity, relevance, methodology, style and presentation – and they suspect also because of its humor! To see their full presentation, click here.

About Lauren:
As a Director at Lux Insights, Lauren oversees Lux’s qualitative research practice and is one of the firm’s leading moderators. Lauren specializes in brand and public affairs research in diverse sectors including CPG, technology and government and enjoys working with clients such as Amazon, Bluetooth, Fitbit, Nature’s Path and WD-40. For the first five years of her career, Lauren worked in London, UK at Ipsos MORI’s Social Research Institute in the Central Government and Evaluation teams, and for various public policy think tanks. Lauren is Chapter Co-Chair for the Pacific Northwest QRCA chapter, and is involved in the local business community through her work as a member of the Women’s Leadership Circle of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade. She holds a Double Masters in International Political Economy and International Security from the London School of Economics (LSE) and Sciences Po Paris.

About Nicole:
Nicole is a Research Associate at Lux Insights and brings with her an appetite to examine complex consumer behaviour through a human-centered lens. Since starting at Lux a year ago, Nicole has been part of research projects for both local and international clients in several different sectors including technology and finance, working with clients such as Amazon, Nintendo, Fitbit and Coast Capital Savings. She specializes in designing and executing qualitative research projects, with a passion for conducting in-home interviews and ethnographic fieldwork. Prior to working at Lux, Nicole has consulted with international social enterprises, Canadian tech start-ups and municipal government initiatives. She has conducted fieldwork research in China and Denmark. With a strong will to give back to her community, Nicole spearheads Lux’s Give Back initiatives and partnership with G-Day. Nicole holds a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and Biology from the University of British Columbia.

Tory Gentes’ Project Loco-Mote was selected from numerous submissions to the 2017 call for proposals. QRCA members were requested to respond to a hypothetical client RFP. This year, the RFP was looking to help a California-based non-governmental organization understand travel patterns of the future for the 30 million residents of the Golden State. Tory’s proposal was selected due to its winning creativity, relevance, methodology, style and presentation. To see her presentation and methodology click here.

Tory has been throughout North America, Africa, and Asia collecting ground-level insights from individuals, CEOs, founders, NGOs, and community members that she leverages to solve business problems. With a background in entrepreneurship, leadership, and business, Tory has also managed numerous initiatives for Academic Institutions, NGOs, businesses and international organizations. Specializing in immersive methodologies, Tory has conducted focus groups, in-depth interviews, ethnographies, ideation sessions, surveys, and workshops.

Tory has completed a multitude of cutting-edge, award winning domestic and international projects including several dynamic pieces for Cirque du Soleil. Her projects have literally brought her all over the world including work in Shanghai and Punta Cana.

Tory recently received the most respected honor in the industry from the QRCA, the Qualitative Excellence Award. She is an expert at utilizing an unobtrusive and unassuming approach during interviews and has unparalleled expertise in working with a variety of audiences.

Layla Shea’s research study for the CCFC was selected for its strong efforts to:


  • Tackle an important health issue with creative research techniques
  • Uncover valuable patient insights on a sensitive topic
  • Provide a solid business plan for the client’s five-year strategic communication efforts


The study focused on identifying relevant communications channels in which the CCFC could better engage with patients of Crohn’s Disease and Colitis. The 10-day study aimed to understand how to get the right information into patients’ hands at the right times.

Understanding that the disease often dictates patients’ lifestyles, Shea designed a study that would allow respondents to participate on their own schedules. She used an online discussion board to encourage openness and honesty in a supportive environment. Important conversations took place among participants as they revealed details of their struggle and found support.

During each day of the study, respondents were asked to complete a different task or share opinions on a different topic. For example, patients at varying stages of the disease were asked to recreate the moment of their diagnosis, recommend valuable information sources, review and offer feedback on various CCFC publications or describe how the syndrome affects their day-to-day work/school life.

The study revealed different communications opportunities at various stages (prior to diagnosis, at diagnosis and post diagnosis), as well as types of information and tools that would assist in providing future patients with knowledge, empowerment and support to most effectively control the disease.

The CCFC has used the results of the study to develop a five-year strategic plan that would guide the organization’s approach to patient and health care provider engagement and communications. The CCFC now tailors its communications in a meaningful way to each of the defined patient audiences to provide appropriate information at appropriate times.

About Layla:
Layla Shea started Upwords Marketing Solutions in 2008 to design and moderate activity based conversations via online qualitative research after an extensive marketing and consulting career. Layla’s unique background as a marketer, consultant, facilitator and focus group moderator has honed her qualitative research skills from all angles.

Layla began her marketing career at Coca-Cola and S.C Johnson, learning solid foundations of marketing and innovation. Then, for nearly a decade Layla applied her marketing skills as an insights consultant and advised on qualitative and quantitative research designs for large consumer packaged goods, and other industry clients.

Since starting Upwords, Layla has developed a passionate expertise moderating in the online realm. Having been in her client’s shoes, Layla moderates with a deep understanding of the business issues to be solved. She is skilled at building game changing insights, which she then transforms into practical business implications. Layla’s clients are raving fans of her activity based online approach and her simple results-oriented reports. Layla is now based on the West Coast; her online work knows no boundaries.

When Seattle-based advertising agency Cole & Weber United wanted to become the go-to marketing partner for companies that sell through convenience stores, it engaged qualitative research consultant and QRCA member Daniel Berkal, Director: Knowledge & Insight at The Palmerston Group, to thoroughly research the convenience store environment.

Berkal led Cole & Weber through a four-stage research project that included 130 observational store visits, on-the-street consumer interviews, convenience store employee and manager interviews and, arguably the most unique approach, getting behind the counter.

During the final phase of the research project, Berkal put on a uniform and fulfilled all functions of a convenience store employee. He was able to observe customers shopping, along with gaining a first-hand perspective of customer-clerk interactions.

The research project provided insights that changed the way Cole & Weber segmented and marketed to target audiences in the convenience store arena. Previously, audiences were divided by demographic; following the research, audiences are segmented based on needs or how they use/shop in convenience stores. This unparalleled approach allowed Cole & Weber to pitch new large accounts and gain credibility as experts in the convenience store marketplace.

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