8 Countries represented at the London Conference “Putting the Spice back into Qualitative Research” 

More than 30 market researchers representing 8 different countries gathered in the Grand Connaught rooms in central Londonon Thursday 10th and Friday 11th October, to share opinions and gain insight into the latest trends in qualitative research. Jointly organised by the ICG (Independent Consultants Group) and AIMRI, it successfully attracted a very distinguished set of speakers whose content fully justified the 2 day format.

Day 1 was ‘Mixing the ingredients’ and after a short introduction by Arthur Fletcher, chairman of the ICG, Andrew Smith took over the chair and the program proper began with a keynote speech from Becky Rowe of ESRO Revealing Reality

So, onto the first session – entitled ‘crossing the Rubicon’ because John Attfield of Attfield, Dykstra and Partners of Germany was taking us across to the new territories of ‘Moderating Online Qualitative for effect’ ; sharing examples of best practice for bulletin boards, forums and groups. This informative start was quickly built upon by Paul Hudson of Flex MR who spoke about “Mixing techniques in a dynamic and changing world” – for further details see the article on the back cover.

After the break the program moved to focussing on types of respondents with, firstly, Janet Kiddle of Steel Magnolia discussing ‘Social media for the older Consumer’ describing how older people are adapting to the world of 2-way communications. This was followed by Liz Montgomery of Sharp Research with ‘Engaging Busy B2B Audiences’ making research relevant and effective for everyone; respondents, clients and researchers! Liz explained how online qualitative has been shown to be a good fit for B2B research for some while. It fits with busy work lifestyles bringing together audiences that have common interests but who rarely have the opportunity to interact when working.

Following lunch the conference was treated to two views of Latin America. Firstly Ricardo Modolo of Uniquest, Brazil with his paper ‘Public Opinion Polling in Brazil’ provided an excellent example of the manner in which qualitative research can identify trends that quantitative ‘trackers’ can readily miss. Ricardo was followed by Iris Griffiths of Across Research with her invigorating ‘Let’s talk Latin America’, described as ‘one region, 20 countries: understanding the cultures for qualitative research’, she engagingly summarised many of the requirements for working with cultural differences in Latin America. Importantly, Iris highlighted the manner in which many of those engaged in market research seem to believe that the only thing needed for success in understanding a different culture is to find someone that speaks the idiom of the country. Often little attention is given to the cultural knowledge of the market, essential for understanding the behaviour patterns of the target consumers.

After the tea break, day 1 ended with a ‘workshop’ session lead by Robin Shuker of Exposure Research who divided the company into groups to put some of the latest methodologies into practice. This enjoyable session was so successful that many participants believed they had resolved some important research issues for Robin!

Later that evening many delegates enjoyed the conference dinner in Wolfe’s Bar & Grill – located opposite the conference centre.

Chairman for day 2 was Tony Dent, Chairman of AIMRI and the emphasis shifted to ‘enjoying the benefits’. Once again conference was treated to a thought provoking keynote speech, this time from Ken Parker founder of Discovery Research and current chairman of AQR.

The first presentation was by Andy Evans of Exposure Research with ‘Everywhere and Anyone – Mobile Insight’ exploring best practice in the use of mobile phones for qualitative research. Of particular interest was using mobile for diaries, including providing photographs and even video of respondent experiences. Andy highlighted the richness of data that can be available and the difficulty sometimes presented in summarising and reporting! Next for ‘new perspectives’ was the paper ‘China Qual: Inside-Outside’, providing fascinating insight into the problems and opportunities of undertaking qualitative work in China. Presented by Michael Herbert, MHA Consulting and Jessica Shepherd, Independent Consultant they successfully conveyed the effects of rapid economic change and the diversity of cultures within that vast country. There was also an interesting echo from the Latin American papers, whereby local researchers in both cases appear as if nothing will be ready in time for the focus groups and then, suddenly, it all comes together - respondents appear, technology works and all proceeds unexpectedly smoothly!

Following the coffee break we reconvened for ‘taking the longer view’ and a minor programme change with, firstly, Karen Cooper of Living Brands and Howard Josephs of See Research & Planning presenting their paper ‘4D Qual: taking qual to the top table’. They explained that the rapid changes in technology allows for a repositioning of qualitative research from a static, one dimensional and underutilised tool, to a fluid, dynamic and integral part of commercial decision making. Thus, the final paper before lunch was “Building business through understanding your customers” as given by Sabine Lohmann of Insight Research who emphasised that it is more important than ever to minimise risk prior to market introduction to guarantee business success and growth. Engagingly, Sabine extolled her belief that even basic consumer research helps a business to grow, whereas failure to conduct research will guarantee eventual business failure!

After another excellent lunch we were treated to two interesting case studies illustrating “Hybrid Methods for Results”. Presented by Ruth Stanat of SIS International Research, the paper firstly discussed how different qualitative methods are appropriate for different markets and provided a framework for selecting methods to achieve client needs and add value. Ruth then described a ground breaking study to identify the housing and other needs of autistic children and adults. Based initially upon an extensive qualitative phase, engaging all relevant stakeholders, the primary recommendations were then derived from a quantitative study with 9,000 responses. The second case study was a more light hearted investigation of the automated world of air travel in the future. Although some participants questioned whether the study was actually exploring the present rather than the future!

Our final presentation was another interactive session, this time with Arthur Fletcher of Blauw Research discussing ‘Gameplay – the right way?’ getting everyone on their feet and throwing balls around the room Arthur illustrated how playing games ensures more enjoyment and thus engagement from respondents!

After the final break we all reconvened for a summary reminder of the conference from the chair and a final Q and A with Tony Dent, Andrew Smith, Ken Parker and Arthur Fletcher as our ‘panel’. The session was dominated by the issue of establishing qualifications for qualitative research and Michael Herbert provided an update of the work he had done on this issue for the ICG.

The conference ended with the majority of participants agreeing that there had seldom been a more thorough or more enjoyable examination of the qualitative research scene! 

Richard Chilton and Tony Dent

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