Apr 26, 2006

Reached an Impasse?

I came across this post on methodological woes that got me writing this one…

The problem described there is not uncommon. Quite often one finds oneself in a situation asking a bunch of respondents with sheer passion and enthusiasm to recall an incident / offer an opinion and – all you hear is – I really don’t know. There is nothing I remember that I can tell you. – And it’s heartbreaking to hear that as much as it is frustrating.

Sometimes, it could just be a result of Lazy Thinking on part of the respondent. But there is a bigger possibility that the details / events that one wants to hear about – are not particular significant in the respondent’s life. There is only so much anyone can remember and people do not want to waste precious memory on some political event in 1999. So what does one do?

The method used in the case with the woe is ‘focus groups’. I have nothing against focus groups but - my understanding is that doing depth-interviews can offer not only a more intimate environment for the person to talk about how the event could have impacted them, but would also allow a researcher - greater freedom to build rapport, probe and explore – since she is not affected by angry and bored looking respondents watching her, which could happen in a group. Also, when one person in a group says they don’t remember anything significant - it could rub off on the others who may fall prey to 'group think' since no one really does want to make the effort of jogging their memory.

The timeline / track back approach does help - I have found it working better - when going backwards from the most recent year - since a free trip of nostalgia may just take them back to the memories that are significant in their life - and those may not be necessarily the ones you want to hear about. A rather structured approach - going back year on year and encouraging them to recall details - is what I have followed - though the style of the interview has been Narrative - telling the respondent - 'tell me a story about your life' as opposed to - 'what happened next / then what happened etc' - which may seem like a memory exercise and tire them out.

Some other aids you could try in such situations are –
• Taking the help of photos they may have from that year or a visual / imaginary - opening up of a photo album exercise - to aid recall. If you are doing the visualization, have a script ready and one that will encourage the respondent to use as many ‘senses’ as you can
• Interviewing a family unit - as opposed to the individual - that will allow you the advantage of people building on each others memories as happens in groups - yet their past would not be very different so as to pull people in different directions.
• And lastly if you / anyone in your team are qualified - to put the respondent in trance - it greatly aids recall especially mundane / insignificant details which we all tend to forget. Though using hypnosis in research is fairly niche, it does have its merits.

research method, qualitative research,qualitative research and impasse,

Apr 14, 2006

Prologue….or Monologue!

Not once…but most times I have interviewed consumers for Market Research…I have had to mindlessly explain to a bunch of bored looking housewives why I am sitting there with a camera pointing to them.

(Only recently I discovered that it was mandated by the Market Search Society of India to set a preamble to the discussion).

There are few occasions however, as I have gone through the motions of my boring speech…something in me has jumped out (well...almost) pestering to grab my attention and despite my incessant efforts at trying to banish this rebellious thought…has persisted enough to almost form a paralleled mental process.

Here is some anecdotal evidence in support of what I am saying…Enjoy!

Hi…My name is Reshma and before we start the discussion let me give
you a brief introduction

(Oh crap! Here we go again…)

The company I work for, we don't make or sell anything… we just meet people like you and take your opinion on the products that you use and your opinion is very
crucial to the companies who make these products. Once such company
has sent me here today

(and today being the key word…since last morning I found out that I if I don’t come here TODAY something earth shattering would happen)

and this company is into making

(well…what should I say about them…they make LIFE SAVING DRUGS and they have put it into research TODAY…since they have ONLY until tomorrow find out about the results and so they have sent me here to talk to all of YOU about)

… JAM !!!

To this some one from the groups asks - trying to make conversation and sound intelligent…Madam Jam…wohi khane wala (JAM...the one we eat)?

I put on my warmest smile since it is just the start of the discussion and don’t want to piss them off…Haanji wohi …aap ne kaise guess kar liya? (oh yes! how did you gues s that)

(You are sooooo intelligent…Yes it is JAM…that hideous looking pink blob...)


Then there are times when I’ve been at the same place so often that I’ve seen the same faces in the audience for researches that I have done on tea…jam…biscuits…you name it …and they use it!

‘Repeat Respondents’ as they are known in the industry or ‘professional respondents’ like they fancy calling themselves can fit into 2 categories….actually 3.

The soft spoken ‘mama types’ the ones who nod their head as you give your opening speech for the (n+1)th time…even though they have heard it only two days ago…they have such a concerned look on their face…almost to say…haan beta mujhe pata hai tum par kya guzar rahi hai ! (I know what you are going through, love) They are by and large 'nice'. They behave themselves at the discussion, even try to answer intelligently...make my job easy...I don't have anything against them.

The other category is the ‘marketing savvy….I know all the jargon’ babe. These can be real pests and talking to them can be a real test of anyones patience

Your opinions are very important to us…there is no right or wrong when it comes to an opinion…so feel free to express what you say

Haanji yeh sab hume pata hai…ab group discussion shuru karein
(Ya..ya we know...now can you start the discussion)

Haan jaroor…abhi 5 minute mein shuru kartein hai…par uske pehle mujhe aap logo ko kuch dikhana hai (Ofcourse we'll start in a bit but i need to show you something before that)

Haan dikhaye…jo CONCEPT BOARD…dikhana hai (Ya...show us the concept board you have)

Come...sit here...take my place...is what I feel like telling them...and I'll happily take yours!

The third slot is reserved for the real duhs! They’ll be the ones who as soon as you enter the room would say….

Aare Madam Aap…aaj itne dino baad dikhayee diye…
Madam You…Seeing you after a long time…

(While trying my best to not recognize her…and trying to drop big hints her way by nodding my head to say yes and no all at once I say) Achha…Main…Nahin…Shayad Koi Aur Hoga (Me - You may have seen someone else). But Duh is what Duh does…so Duh does not get the hint...since she is looking into the camera and waving & smiling...as though it were a live telecast

Aare…Kaise nahin yaad hai aapko…abhi 2 hi to hafte hue hain…kailash cllony mein to hua tha group…wohi kissan wala!
(How come you dont remember. We must just two weeks back at the Kissan group)

(SSShhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…dumb woman…your live telecast is my client sitting in the backroom!)


Though I’ve fretted and fumed when these incidents have happened…in hindsight many a time they’ve saved the day and given me some interesting stories to narrate when I am back from the travel.

Categories: Humor_

, qualitative research, qualitative research and humor

All the worlds a stage...

Over the last couple of weeks, I have repeatedly found asking myself one question…whether the online medium does justice to qual research. Both, my thoughts about this and the idea of doing online qual research itself are too nascent to arrive at anything conclusive yet, though my brush with it so far has left me with a few residual thoughts.

I am beginning to realize that good qual research is like theatre. Much like the script of a playwright, the vision of a research comes to life at the moment of interaction between the researcher and a consumer. The script is only the starting point for a performance…it is not to be confused with ‘the performance’! And the performance is not just a mere summation of the elements. It is that and a little more. This little more comes as a result of a dynamic process of (non-verbal) interaction between an actor and his audiences. The audience is as much a part of the creation of this magic.

Theatre requires an audience. For all of the arts public is essential. The physical presence of an audience can change a performance, inspire actors, and create expectations. Theatre is a living breathing art form. The presence of live actors on the stage in front of live audiences sets it apart from modern day films and television.

Elements of Theatre

Good qual research exudes this dynamism…this magic, a kick that researchers usually feel at the end of an insightful consumer interaction. It’s a feeling in the gut…that one has got it right…made some headway. That feeling is subtle, perhaps not a conscious one. Once cannot pin-point the exact point in the course of interaction where the researcher starts connecting with the consumer and goes beyond the surface. But the feeling is there nevertheless. To approach qual research as a ‘boxed product’ (a set of open-ends that would give you ‘feel data’…which will answer some of the how’s and the why’s for the marketer) to be executed in a standardized way is missing out on the magic.

Which brings me back to my question…does real qual research have to be a live interaction? I think so. The difference between online and face to face is the difference between seeing reality that has happened a couple of minutes or couple of hours ago and experiencing reality as it happens…in a myriad ways.

It’s the difference between a live theatre performance and wrapping the emotions of that performance on a 35 mm reel.

In a live performance the audience is entranced -- their disbelief suspended. This requires the audience to further utilize their imagination and their creative abilities. The reactions to the work can have an even greater impact. There is an energy that flows both ways.

Some actors cannot or will not do stage plays due to the subjective emotional and physical intensity of this form of stagecraft.

The audience experiences a "Human-to-Human" event, an intimacy that is created only with this medium. Finally, when you see live theatre you will experience something that is unique . . . an interpretation or even a once-only performance that results in a brilliant act of serendipity that may never be seen again!

What makes the 'Live Theatre' experience unique

In my experience of doing qual research, I have found many parallels to the description of a theatre performance given here ….the uniqueness, the energy, the intensity, the experience of intense involvement at the exclusion thoughts like where you are, who you are talking to & the oddities in the environment, the play of emotion….can all be very draining but all the same very addictive!

Categories: Online Research_ , Metaphors_

research metaphor, , ,

A Research Metaphor

An unsual metaphor that explains differences between qualitative and quantitative research in a very interesting way.

Qual Research

Full of colors and shades and layers
Reflecting personalities
Life Like
Something that has a mind of its own
Capable of changing its course mid way
Encourages deviations or a creative approach

Quant Research

Full of patterns
Reflecting facts
Also art, but not free hand…
more like an engineered art
Encourages conformity

Categories: Metaphors_

research metaphor,qualitative research,quantitative research,qualitative v/s quantitative research,

Online Research - To do or not to do - that is the ?

I have had another brush with online qualitative research. This time it has gone beyond the two dimensional and asynchronous experiments using a discussion board into ‘real time’ and synchronous interaction with users. In the capture of information and emotion, the interviews turned out to be far weaker than I had imagined. This had little to do with the technology being used. All the basic elements were in place – both the respondent and moderator were connected to the internet via broadband at a reasonably high speed since the connection did allow a voice and video transfer. Yet I found something amiss and that was the magic or the ‘intimacy of a person-to-person interaction.’

I have always strongly believed that this element (the creation of an intimate and unthreatening environment) is one of the two critical aspects to good qual research, the other being the decision on the research method to be used.

The difference between online and offline is, I reckon, like the difference between meeting a friend in person and talking vis-à-vis talking over the phone or talking using a webcam. I am assuming one would on most days prefer a meeting in flesh and blood over a virtual one unless of course distance separates them and there is no choice but to meet in the virtual world. Now I know that talking to a researcher can in no way be compared to the feeling of bonding with a friend but the difference between the two interactions is one of degree and not of type. In both these instances, the virtual meeting seems fainter in terms of exchange of emotion, there is a restlessness to move on since many extraneous factors get in the way and the interaction is feeble where it comes to the expression of non verbal cues and para-language – the last two factors help us ‘make sense’ of what we hear. For instance, the sentence ‘could you send me the documents please, I am waiting’ could be a plea or an assertion depending on the tone and the manner in which the person spoke, along with his or her facial gestures. Though online interviews do capture tone and manner of speech to a certain extent, that is assuming there is no lag in voice transfer, the richness of non verbal cues get lost in frozen images that refresh every once in a few minutes. The presence of a time lag cannot be ruled out altogether and it only adds to fatigue for both people in the conversation. Besides, the fact that one has to constantly speak – pause – hear – pause – speak which can get difficult to keep track of, it breaks down the flow of energy that is created with the natural build up of a conversation. As an observer of an online interview, I found that the moderator was finding it difficult to keep the respondent engaged.

It is relatively easier to keep the respondent engaged and involved in a real world context, since in real life two people sitting face to face often tend to mirror the reactions or body movements of one another. Very often at a restaurant, you’d often find yourself picking up a glass of water, after the person sitting opposite you has done so or vice versa, though till that point, you did not feel the urge. Similarly it is easy to get a person’s attention in an interview by altering your posture – sitting upright or looking eye to eye can often shake the boredom or fatigue that respondents may face.

This lack of control extends beyond the respondent, even to the research environment. Face to face research often happens in a contrived environment and it is almost second nature for a researcher to draw the curtains (to block of excess light) or shut the windows to keep the noise at bay – in her preparation for the discussions. In the virtual interviews, I observed that one had little control over the presence of others in the room, excessive lights that obscured the video transfer, and the clack-clack of the keyboard as the respondent exchanged a line or a smile with his online friends as he aired his views. This has been a classic debate with many researchers whether it is easier on the respondent to be spoken to in the comfort of his own home environment. Though the usual one way mirror research facility is contrived, it scores points, since there is only so much that you can tell a respondent in his home – without sounding rude or completely putting him off.

Warts and all, online research techniques have made some headway, in fact I would not be wrong if I say that it’s becoming the next big buzz word in the research circles. But that’s where precisely the problem lies – when a ‘method’ starts to gain importance and overrides other elements in the research design. For me qual research, has always been, a discipline for understanding the world in which people live and the closer the research method is in reflecting this reality, the better is the understanding. So, online techniques should be like any other, used judiciously. While trying to explore public opinion about a company or a product, reading blogs or discussion boards or other online content about them is like taking advantage of the information that is ‘already there’ and putting it to use. But when the online medium is pressed into service where conventional research techniques could have been used, comparisons about its efficacy are bound to happen.

Categories: Online Research_

Apr 11, 2006

What do I do for a living - Demystifying Qual Research !

What do I do for a living…hmmm…good question!

Some days back I met somebody who asked me – what is it that you do for a living… and I could not help but think hard about that! Of course – the answer was given to him without a blink

I…I am a researcher…a marketing researcher…I help companies ‘understand their consumers better’ so that the products they make are more meaningful to consumers and add more value to their life…blah…blah…blah…

Even before I could complete my sentence, my thoughts fell into a tizzy and I found myself asking me the question….

Is that really what I do?

The next two days – I introspected about and observed the way my day was spent and here is an account of what happened

Day 1 – 8.45 a.m. – get picked up by my boss for an early morning meeting

9.30 a.m. – meeting begins – topic of discussion – women whose husbands suffer from cholesterol – how would our product meet their ‘needs’ – after an hour and a half of deliberation – the outcome of the meeting – marriage is a façade behind which thrive the ‘unequal’ relationships between a man and a woman – lets play up this difference to sell our product – lets meet ‘the needs’ of the woman by providing her with the companion she does not have

1.0 p.m. – client realizes (1.5 hours) away from when the group discussion is scheduled with the women… The venue that we had chosen…is too dark…too dingy…too down-market. Why not have the group discussion right here? My thought…good thought…but could you not think of this…5 days back when we asked you whether we could use your 5 star venue for the group discussion? Anyway the thumb rule is – never question the client’s motives…ironical considering that ‘questioning people for their motives happens to be my job!’

1.0 p.m. – 3.00 p.m. – these two hours that I spent I felt like the pendulum of a giant grandfather clock – only one that had lost its mind – since I was swinging in many different directions all at the same time – trying to keep the women who had arrived for the group discussion happy – now that the discussion was delayed by an hour – trying to trace the camera person who was caught at the security gate of this 5 –star hotel – which at that moment felt like was the HQ of the CIA or something – considering it took us more than an hour to get the security clearance – and trying to placate a rather angry boss spewing fire at me ‘I don’t care how you do…get the whole thing started in 5 minutes’

My thought …but boss…I forgot my magic wand at home today

My action – go down to the flipping reception and find out where our camera guy is caught!

Me – can u trace my camera person – who is caught at your security gate

Receptionist – if you tell me which security gate maam – I’d be glad to assist you

Me – (if I knew which one – why would I come here…duh)…I actually don’t know which one it is – could you call both and find out!

Receptionist – they are at gate B – go to the elevator on your left down this hallway and press ‘B’ for basement

Me – go to the elevator – press ‘b’ – the elevator moves – then it stops – and I wait – and I wait – and finally the door opens after much waiting – and lo and behold- (I have visions of the camera man in the clutches of the security guard where I go and rescue him and take him up to the discussion room)- but hold on…this does not look like the basement and I don’t see any camera person – all I see is the same reception smiling back at me – WHAT! I am at the very same place I started 5 minutes ago – SHIT!

Me – didn’t you tell me that was the way to the basement?

Receptionist – If you could tell me where exactly you want to go maam – I would be in a better position to help you with directions

Me – but didn’t you just tell me…did I not tell you basement…never mind!

I run up to find (much to my relief) the camera person has found his way up.

3.30 p.m. The group discussion starts –

3.45 p.m. - I need to run to office to write a presentation that’s tomorrow morning at 11.00 a.m. I have exactly 2 hours to make some headway on the presentation before I need to come here again for another discussion with men – the guys with the cholesterol problem

4.15 p.m. – in office – trying to get started – when my field person enquires in absolutely disgust – after changing the venue at the last minute – I hope ‘your client’ has arranged for dinner for the respondents.

My Response – of course he will! (let me just message him and check…just to be sure)

4.2o p.m. – SMS from client – I cannot afford dinner for ‘your respondents’ at the hotel – pl arrange for alternative

My respondents! My client…my presentation (that I have not even begun – how did I get myself into this mess) …oh MY God!

4.25 p.m. – frantic call to client – he has the gall to not take my call

4.35 p.m. – another call to client – oh please…please…please…take the call

4.45 p.m. – now I am desperate– pick up the phone…you…!

5.00 p.m. - I’ve spent almost 45 minutes in office and still not written a slide on the presentation.

5.30 – I manage to write 3 slides…3 measly slides…next group in an hour…let me call him once again. This time…he picks up…the heavens have finely decided to take pity on my fate…or did I say that too soon…?

Me…Hi…its me xyz…can I talk to you now?

Client…ya go on…!

Me I just wanted to check with you about dinner for ‘our’ respondents

Client…Did you not get my message…I can’t afford dinner!

Me…(I got that duh…that’s the reason I’m calling)…yes I did…but we generally serve dinner to men…especially since this is a high profile group.

Client…Yes but I can’t afford it…why don’t you hand them some food packets

Me…(food packets…you mean food packets…you must be out of your mind)…no we can’t serve food packets

Client – so why don’t you order in some pizza from dominoes. That’ll be fast and cheap

Me…Pizza hmmm (muttering under my breath – these men have high cholesterol – and you want me to feed them PIZZA…why don’t I order some pizza and stuff it up your…)…er …we can’t serve outside food in the hotel here.

Client…(behaving absolutely obnoxious)…so then take them to your office and serve them dinner there and give them a little gift incase they feel they have been short-changed

Me…(you bet they’d feel short-changed…these are not little kids we are talking to…that we could make them happy with goodie bags or return gifts...these are MEN at good positions in good companies who are spending their Monday evening talking to you since you invited them…to help you sell your product better…blah…blah…blah !)…Never mind…I’ll think of an alternative

6.00 p.m. – oh shit…its 6 p.m. and I’m still here – I should have been at the venue now. I hear the bosses words ring in my ears (I don’t want any goof-ups on the second group…as it is the 1st one started late…I’m leaving this place at 8.00 p.m. sharp…my son does not have dinner without me…blah..blah..blah)

6.08 – have flown out of office and jumped into an auto…

(shit…traffic…why…did I mail the presentation to myself to work on it from home…home…I don’t know when was the last time I spent some quality time at home…why doesn’t this traffic move…I hope the respondents are on time…I hope I can finish on time….i should be home by 9.00..think I’ll be able to start working on the presentation at 10.00 and work for a couple of hours…or maybe I can write a few slides now…nah…never mind…shit we haven’t moved an inch…damn…the traffic!)

6.35 p.m – at the venue…phew! The mad-pendulum swing begins …

6.45 p.m. – 2nd group starts…I still need to figure out what to do about ‘dinner for respondents’

7.00 p.m. – at the coffee shop of the hotel – me, my colleague and the field co-coordinator

Me…Can we have a look at your menu

Manager – Maam – why don’t you have a seat?

Me – we actually haven’t come for dinner…we are just trying to arrange dinner for 6 people who’ll be here at 8.30 p.m.

Manager – ok…here is the menu

Me…- lets serve them soup and salad

Colleague – but that’s not a complete meal…how about a dessert?

Me…but that way we’ll not be within the budget…a soup and a salad itself would be 600+ and we need to keep it within 500 per person

Field co-ord – how can you expect MEN to have their dinner on some soup and salad?

Me…and my colleague…okay…lets think of something else...how about birayani…what about your buffet…what about…why is everything so bloody expensive

The field co-ord…in utter exasperation…I’ll pay from my pocket…if the respondents don’t have a good meal…its not ‘your’ client who will earn a bad name…its out agency that will!

All this while the manager – who has been a silent spectator to our predicament – now intervenes

Manager – Maam can I ask you a question…what is your budget…(gosh I hate the sound of that…it reminds me of the broker who helped us find a house on rent)

Me…we need to arrange for dinner at under 500 per person

Manager – okay – how about I serve them a soup…a choice of veg /non-veg biryani and a choice of desserts from the buffet for a flat fee of 500

Me…would that include taxes

Manager – yes maam!

Collegue…wait…lets go and check out the desserts…they seem ok…why don’t you thrown in some salad too

Manager…no maam…I am sure you understand I am already offering a lot for the price

Me…(thoroughly embarrassed)…I think that’s very nice of you sir…we’ll go with that

Collegue…no I don’t mean a portion of salad for each person…just two large bowls would do.

Manager…ok maam…I’ll do what I can

Me…(oh my god…were we just bargaining at a 5 star hotel…for dinner…which we are not even going to eat ourselves…what has life come to!)

8.30 – group discussions ends

8.45 – 9.15 – meeting with client…outcome of the meeting – we were just superb on that one…I think the product will sell....this is just what they need….blah…blah….blah

10.00 p.m – reach home dog tired…head splitting with a migrane!

10.20 – after having had a micro-waved read meal – crash!

5.00 a.m. – alarm rings…me….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

7.00 a.m. – woken up by the thwack of the news paper on the door….almost feels like a slap across my face for not waking up in time.

7.05 – 9.20 – write presentation

11.00 a.m. presentation starts and goes on as smoothly as spreading butter that is melted just right!

12.00 noon – presentations ends…(and nobody knows I spent just 2 sleepy hours in the morning – thinking of what they should do to win over their consumers)

1.0 p.m. - need to be at the venue for the 3rd group…the clock strikes one…time for the pendulum to start swinging again !

After thought - People who grew up at around the same time as me – would definitely have some recall of the tata steel TVC – we change lives…we build bridges…we also make steel!

Cant help but end with this thought…yes and I also do research!

Categories: Humor_

humor and qualitative research, qualitative research, on being a qualitative researcher