By Edward Appleton

Conducting research in foreign countries is always tricky if you’re not a native speaker – language, popular knowledge, habits, common beliefs, there’s a whole raft of “filters” that need to be factored in before we can get close to anything like an insight.

The exercise becomes doubly or triply complicated when you overlay corporate-client cultures – and then added to that research agency cultures and practices. These are “belief sets” which are to a lesser or greater degree “accepted” as “the way to do things”, but in fact impose structures on something relatively unknown.

For example: you’re executing a “qual.” project in India – 60 groups – where the commissioning client is a Scottish ex-pat based in Indonesia, with little or no experience of doing research in India at all. The local client is in India, but with minimal experience of market research in any shape or size.

Participants’ questions are potentially “fundamental” – “why is this woman holding up these pictures?” Literacy is not a given. Client reactions range from the purely instructive to genuine bafflement – “why are all these people speaking at the same time?”. The anecdotal teeters between comedy and tragedy.

How (on earth) can researchers approach an insight-gathering process in such complex and unfamiliar situations? Where local, regional, cultural, linguistic, contextual understanding is potentially limited to a minority of those involved in sponsoring and executing the research?

Over the next 2-3 weeks we’ll be sharing a series of 4 blog posts sharing some “humble” thoughts from work we’ve conducted around the world over the past 10-15 years in our quest to minimize the number of “duh” moments and ramp up the “aha” noises towards auto-repeat…..

The areas we’ll touch on are as follows:

  • Managing cultural biases and expectations
  • Using storytelling, semiotic analysis and projective techniques in an intercultural context
  • Organising projects across cultures, time-zones: mind the gap!

Hopefully they’re relevant for both smaller and larger size agencies, qual. and quant.

They draw on our experience of doing international research over the past 20 years – the good, the bad and the positively sit-down-and-weep moments.

So – bookmark this page! 😉

Edward Appleton, Happy Thinking People