Jul 23, 2007

Flavor of the season – treating research tools as buzzwords

Creeping back into the routine of reading blogs, I chanced upon Mack’s post on - Walking the Social Media utility/hype line in which he talks about the ‘hot toy (tool) of the week’ in the social media space.

Much of what he says about new tools in the social media sphere is so true of qual research as well.

Still, if you listen to some in the blogosphere, it seems that the shine has worn off blogging. Blogs are quickly becoming yesterday's news, as some run off to play with shinier toys with names like 'Facebook', 'Pownce' and 'Spock'. That's because we geeks love to hype stuff (and bloggers know that if they are hyping the hot new toy, they'll get more traffic).

At one time it was (& perhaps still is) fashionable to talk about the death of focus groups in research circles and the shift from ‘conversation led’ research to ‘observation-led’ research. Ethnography dominated the scene for a while as the flavor of the season, and before we knew it the next big thing to happen in the world of Qual was online research. For a while there were talks about doing online focus group sessions in live chat-rooms, but before we could digest that fully we started talking about Blogs, wikis & setting up research panels on Second Life.

So where in lies the problem? The problem is not with keeping an open mind to methodological experiments. The problem is when research agencies especially small – new outfits start looking at these methodologies as their differentiating tools. Then the method over-rides any other consideration while planning a research and there is a blanket adoption for a pet method. Also since method becomes a differentiating factor, there is tendency to safeguard one’s method by putting it into a ‘black-box’ of sorts and presenting it to the world in the form of obscure, jargon-laden decks of power-point slides. Talking to another researcher-blogger, about this issue – we wondered how this was so not in keeping with the spirit of research – which is to throw light on issues and not obfuscate them under the guise of esoteric methodologies.

The other problem is that when follow these flash trends, we start treating research tools as ‘buzzwords’ – and we implicitly give these tools very little time to prove their worth in research. While they are in vogue, they are used indiscriminately and once they are out (possibly because of a few sub-optimal attempts at their use), nobody likes to talk about them. Very little is done to understand the right context for their use, or develop those into more robust approaches.

Mack’s concludes his post with the thought…

…..Believe the utility, not the hype. Jumping from one 'next big thing' to the next, simply leaves you with tired legs. Any new site/service/medium that offers real value will outlive the initial buzz.

And I second that!