Best Practice Debate Style Over Substance

The post-lunch session today was a look at how better to present the findings of qualitative research, is there an issue of too much substance over style? The session began with 2 short presentations followed by a panel and audience debate.

Delivering the Goods
Laura Fry, GfK
First up was Laura Fry, here to talk about the role of design in the delivery of qualitative research reports. The future looks creative, clients have been asking for more and more reports that bring data to life and include impactful examples . But there are barriers to being more creative, time and money being just two, in addition not all researchers can be creative, but they can overcome many of these barriers by collaborating with designers to provide visual ways to present findings.

At GfK they have started using a number of creative mediums when it comes to communicating with clients, 3D modelling for changes to technical products based on consumer feedback, infographic based consumer portraits and navigable virtual houses as apposed to slide shows. To achieve this they have to look outside of the company and employ experts, graphic and information designers. But Laura stressed that designers work very differently to researchers, they need to be involved in the brief at an early stage and the reporting and output needs to be addressed very early on.

She finished with 5 tips for researchers thinking about their reporting

  • Don’t always need a designer
  • You do need to find a designer who can work with researchers
  • You do need to collaborate
  • You don’t need loads of money
  • You do need to carefully plan your time (feedback, review and get the client involved)

The Use of Film and Video in Research
Dominic Scott-Malden & Peter Totman Jigsaw Research
Following Laura was Dominic and Peter of Jigsaw Research who were here to talk to us about the use of film in qualitative research. It’s a powerful medium that has been eagerly harnessed by qualitative research but are the problems with it? Are we sleep walking through our use of it? Dominic suggested some of the questions raised when thinking about this:

  • Can we film a consumer and still be “in-the-moment”?
  • We can film fieldwork but what about analysis and interpretation.
  • What role should it play?
  • As proof or a living research report?
  • Can all our findings be shown?

Dominic went on to state there are some fundamental differences between researchers and directors. The researcher wants output that reflects findings whereas directors want to make impactful sensational output. We need to decide which we want to be. We were then shown some examples of how film is currently used in qualitative research.

Type 1 – The original and worst – static focus group footage
Type 2 – Pick-up clips – soundbites from focus groups filmed post group
Type 3 – video in the moment – captures choice, used to gather data as well as present it.
Type 4 – Documentary style using a trained film-maker, audio and video presented as polished as possible to present data.

But like Laura’s presentation previously, Dominic and Peter stressed the importance of involving the film maker in the whole process.

This led us on to the debate. Laura, Dominic and were joined on stage by Annette Bohmer to represent the client side. A debate for me indicates two or more opposing views engaging in a formal discussion of those views. But this afternoon I think you would be hard pushed to find a qualitative researcher in the room that didn’t appreciate the value of more engaging techniques in presenting the consumer story to clients. This, of course, is a great sign. Though Dominic stated that in his experience most research companies are around 90% substance and 10% style, we should be aiming for 50/50. But not at the expense of the insights, Peter quickly added. It was Annette’s input early on that was most intriguing. She told us that because of the frustrations with research presentations, she no longer uses research agencies and now does all the qualitative research herself.

The debate continued with discussions on powerpoint (and it’s effect of making us think in bullet points and text boxes), irrelevant images in slides, and the productivity side of things (Laura stated that having a graphic designer involved helps her concentrate on the real research work with Annette adding that it certainly helps with the productivity of the client)

In the end i think it was best summed up by Laura and Peter. Laura said substance and style are not mutually exclusive they should be part of the same thing, but researchers need to become communications specialists with Pete adding that the best communication doesn’t always involve technology. There are many aspects and factors involved.

Kees van Duyn
Getting to know Wonder Woman
Chris Jones, BrainJuicer

People are unreliable witnesses to their own behaviour – they rarely do what they think they do. Therefore we need methods that make us less reliant on memory and what people decide to tell us when we ask them questions. However studying behaviour in decontextualized research settings is far from ideal. We need to get closer to the moments of truth, to real-life experiences of real people in real environments. This is where Mobile Ethnography can help.

It was clear that something was missing in the existing segmentation for Special K. Kellog’s key challenge was to get as deep as possible under the skin of the Wonder Woman segment. BrainJuicer needed to dig deep and evolve Wonder Woman from abstract to real, ‘humanising’ her in the process.

To this end they devised a multistage research programme:

  • Mobile Ethnography using an App to get closer to the moments of truth
  • Followed by an Online Community
  • And finally quantitative validation

The App let people do things in their own time and their own timeframe, making the results less reliant on their memories. Twenty people were recruited for a period of one week. They were asked to tell a bit about themselves, the high and lows of their days, and specifically about the moments they felt good and energized. They were also taking pictures of every meal and snack they ate, followed by a short prompt of what was good or bad about it. On the final day BrainJuicer got participants to look back and review their own input, which by then consisted of videos, pictures, comments, tags.

The Mobile Ethnography approach augmented the Special K segmentation with real-life experiences from real people. The strengths of the methodology can be summed up as follows:

  • It allows for the exploration of ‘unknown unknowns’
  • It produces findings on a human scale – it humanizes otherwise abstract ‘respondents’
  • It records actual routines and rituals
  • Last but not least, it is unobtrusive technology – it doesn’t get in the way

However not surprisingly it has its limitations, too:

  • The ability to interrogate or probe is limited or even completely absent
  • It records behaviour but doesn’t tell you much about needs, attitudes etc.
  • Larger projects are often not feasible

Using Apps for ethnographic purposes is a great example of ‘taking research to the people’, and not pulling them out of their natural habitat. Not only did participants enjoy taking part, the App turned participants into self-ethnographers, getting us one step closer to reality – which is often less glamorous than people claim it is!

Kees van Duyn
Self-ethnography for User Experience Design
Katherine Gough, Nokia Design & Sharmila Subramanian, Face

Face and Nokia set out to embed user behaviour directly into the design process. Nokia had always used ‘formal’ ethnographic approaches to eliminate the differences between what people say they do vs. what they actually do. However these can be expensive and time-consuming. Nokia needed a cheaper, deeper and more meaningful way of conducting ethnographic research – how can we get research to work harder at lower cost? Self-ethnography was identified as the way to go.

However a couple of challenges needed to be overcome:

  • How do we get users to interpret their own experiences and guide them to represent themselves?
  • How do you ensure you collect only what you need?

It also involved a different way of thinking about ‘respondents’: people needed to become active participants and collaborators, not passive respondents.

To this end participants had to be trained to heightening their self-awareness, which was believed to be critical to the success of the project. The need for self-reflection was apparent: what does this all mean? Why do I do that? You need to allow time for this in the process, marrying the ‘what’ with the ‘why’. An Online Community was deployed to aid the self-reflection process, and to get people to think about and comment on their own input.

Transparency between researcher and participants was crucial, and Face had to give people constructive feedback and encouragement to drive engagement with the process. Furthermore it was important to utilize simple tools to capture experiences without forcing participants into a prescriptive experience, as this would undermine the key strength of the method.

In summary, digital self-ethnography is a great way of obtaining relatively untainted insights into consumers’ lives. It tackles the problem of the decontextualized nature of traditional methods by getting us one step closer to real people living real lives. However, while participants can help interpret the ‘data’, further synthesis and analysis is required to interpret the findings in light of the business objectives. This of course comes down to human interpretation…

Big Data Brainstorm
Sven Arn, Happy Thinking People  

The final session of this first day was a little change of pace. An interactive session with Sven Arn of Happy Thinking People looking at how we can apply qualitative techniques to the challenges of big data. As qualitative data researchers are used to working with data that isn’t obvious and working with contradictions can we at Qualitative Research 2012 prove that qualitative researchers are the best with dealing with the challenges of big data? Well working in groups the delegates of this years conference will be working on the business challenges of big data to try and build a response to the question. The results will be shared with the conference tomorrow morning during the Big Data Karaoke Feedback Session.

Join us again tomorrow!

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