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Issac Rogers

Today’s qualitative researcher has a wide selection of online tools at their disposal; online discussions, communities, real-time video groups and mobile tools are effective and well-developed platforms used in thousands of projects each year. While qualitative researchers have, at times, been accused of being somewhat slower to adopt online approaches than our colleagues in the quantitative world, the qualitative industry is catching on quickly.

By definition, online qualitative platforms eliminate the typical time and travel constraints of face-to-face research and so they are a natural solution for efficiently conducting global research projects. Each year, the platforms become more and more advanced, with everything from embedded translation capabilities to support for dozens of common languages.  In the past 12 months alone, 20|20’s platforms enabled researchers to engage participants from over 100 countries. It is a normal course of business for our project teams to manage a global study engaging participants in 5, 10 or even 15 countries simultaneously, many times all organised by a small team of our clients researchers who will never leave their home offices.

While these advancements in globally capable research tools have revolutionised multi-country research for the larger agencies, they have also opened the door for smaller firms, and even independent consultants, to compete on the global stage.  Firms with even the most modest resources can line up partner agencies to handle in-country fieldwork and moderation, allowing them to orchestrate the logistics of a global project with slightly more effort than a single-county study took a few short years ago.

Levelling the field for some, creating new opportunities for others
Large, multinational firms have built some of the largest pools of research knowledge in existence. But in many cases, these assets are scattered in various offices around the world with minimal chances for colleagues to collaborate. Smaller firms have established a network of trusted partners and providers, demonstrating tremendous skill in synthesising a global team of researchers.

The time and distance that previously separated these talent pools and the realities of face-to-face research, meant little opportunity for the organisation to truly work together as a cohesive team. Agencies both large and small have done a tremendous job of weaving together a global network of resources and capabilities, yet many have found that same level of success leveraging their single greatest asset: the talents and expertise of their researchers.

With today’s global qualitative platforms, those realities are changing. We can leverage those vast networks of talent on a single project, bringing together expertise and experience from across the globe to put our best and brightest researchers around the same (virtual) table.  We can bring the right skills and talents to bear on a global effort, maximising the wealth of expertise that exists among our team members.

But now, how do we align those resources?  And what skill sets are important to include in the mix when organising an online global qualitative project?  Rather than just assigning the resources we have on hand in each local market, we need to begin to organise and “codify” our talent pool so that we put the right skills to work for the specific needs of the project.

The S.A.M. Principle
In most online qualitative projects, you can separate the most important strategic skill sets into three categories:  Subject Matter Experts, Audience Experts and Methodology Experts.

Subject Matter Experts: Research staff with specific domain expertise. These are typically researchers who have worked for this client team previously, or have relevant industry or category experience.

Audience Experts: Typically more tactical members of the team.  They have past experience with the specific target segment and can address recruiting, engagement, and incentivisation issues.

Methodology Experts: These members of the team have experience managing or moderating with the chosen technology platform and may be the primary contact for the software vendor.

Since online qualitative can still be a fairly new approach for some agencies, it is rare to find this breadth of experience in a single field office and even rarer to find it all on a single project team.  And while, in a perfect world, we would like to think we could dedicate our most qualified individuals with this level of expertise fully to each step of the project, the chances of that occurring in the real world of market research are slim.  In most cases, a core team of mixed skill sets and sometimes nascent levels of experience with online global qualitative will be tasked with the bulk of the research output.

This is precisely where the S.A.M. principle comes into play.  By identifying who your experts are in each category, and creating a mechanism for leveraging their knowledge, you can inject them into critical phases of project design and execution, and allow the primary team to benefit from their expertise and insights.

Leveraging S.A.M. expertise
A pharmaceutical firm approached their Paris-based primary research team with a desire to execute a four-country study of patients with a unique form of juvenile diabetes. Because of low incidence of the target demographic and the potential need for additional follow-up interviews in later phases of the project, their primary team felt webcam IDI’s would be the best approach. However, only one person on the primary research team had ever conducted online sessions and never with this target audience.

Solution? They leveraged the talent of their firm’s global network, covering the S.A.M. categories of expertise. They quickly identified three additional resources that would assist with project design, fieldwork best practices, and identifying a suitable analysis framework. None of these experts resided in the same country and few had met each other before the project began.

A kickoff call introduced the project scope to the entire integrated team, with the S.A.M. members relaying critical best practices to the primary research staff. A series of planned touch points, during discussion guide development and just before a final screener was approved, ensured the S.A.M. team of experts could guide the primary team as they shaped the study design to maximise insights and minimise risk. Once the actual online interviews started, the Subject and Methodology experts logged in and observed the moderator’s progress, providing tips and guidance between sessions.

Without the availability of global online qualitative platforms, leveraging the talents of this diverse group of experts would have been next to impossible.  Online qualitative platforms can allow a worldwide team of experts to lend guidance and advice, maximising the value of a large agency’s vast pool of talent.

New tools enhancing expertise
Globally capable online platforms will continue to proliferate.  As the tools and methods advance, researchers around the world will find fewer and fewer barriers to executing multi-country research.

For the time being, large agencies still have some advantage in their scale and experience with global logistics. However, the value of a global footprint will decrease as the process of executing international fieldwork grows easier and more accessible to all.

Smaller firms and independent researchers are on the precipice of a new world.

Multi-country panels and international recruiting firms are showing strong promise as a resource for sourcing qualified participants.  Independent moderators, project directors, and analysts are networking together via trade associations and online groups to collaborate on global research.

Online qualitative is changing the playing field for multi-country research.  The process of simply executing the logistics of a global project is becoming more and more commoditised.  For research agencies, their next evolution depends on their ability to adapt to this change. Their prosperity will depend on the ability to cross-pollinate ideas and best practices from a team of global experts, and to avoid the impulse to assign project teams based simply on the most available set of resources.

Issac Rogers is Chief Innovations Officer at 20|20 Research

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