Qualitative research (i.e. focus groups, depth interviews) does not lend itself to normal conversations. The researcher has an agenda. They have things that their client needs them to ask, and it is important that they hear the answers back from the respondent in their own words.
Qualitative research is thus in many ways extremely regimented and entirely one sided. The researcher asks the questions and the respondent gives the answers, in a way which allows the respondent to tell their story without being distracted or influenced by the researcher.
I’ve been working for myself for more than three years now, and self employment has ups and downs. When the downs come, it is difficult to know whether to stay in business or pack up and return to the world of 9 to 5, and this is especially hard because when you’re in charge it is solely your responsibility to decide. Quitting is a big decision and it can be tempting to hang on too long and keep flogging a dead horse.
I don’t want to do that, I want to run a viable business on my own terms.
I want to be sensible, and make evidence-based decisions.
To address this, there are a few things that I regularly monitor and take into consideration when evaluating the viability of my business.
As you know I think members of the public should pitch in and have a go when they’re asked to participate in market research (Market research – what’s in it for you?). I’ve written loads of articles about market research ethics and methodologies over the past couple of years, often trying to raise awareness that we’re a regulated and trustworthy profession and we do our best to do right by our respondents (5 reasons why researchers are not as bad as you think).
But I’m well aware that many people have reservations.
I’m not going to go over old ground, but I thought I’d gather together some of my blog posts so that if you have a particular worry or concern you can click through and find out a bit more about why things are as they are, or perhaps why things are not quite as you thought, or indeed what you should expect (or demand!) from a professionally done research project.
I was scheduled to conduct a depth interview with a respondent and when I called them they were not in. Their colleague explained that they had been bitten by a cat and had to go to the doctor! Eek! These are things you can’t plan for.
Most people are probably used to research involving being stopped in the street and called at home and asked to participate in ‘market research’ or a ‘survey’ or a ‘questionnaire’. You’re one of hundreds being asked. If you say yes, the research is done there and then. If you say no the researcher just moves on and asks someone else.
Well qualitative research (focus groups and depth interviews) is different.
A depth interview is an extended semi-structured conversation (rather than the yes/no style of a survey), and I am generally contracted to complete a small fixed number of depth interviews within a fixed length of time. So perhaps ten in a week. Respondents may not realise, but every one of those interviews is targeted and important and has to be done to a certain specification. There’s no ‘around ten’ or ‘I’ll do some’ and respondents are not just one of many – each one has to be completed as agreed. So if I’ve signed you up, that’s because I really want to interview you. Yes you, specifically!
Should I include “I don’t know” in a questionnaire?
Good question, this is one that people often get wrong – either because they forget to consider it or they don’t think it through. The concern would be that if you show a respondent a ‘don’t know’ response option they will feel compelled to select it instead of giving a ‘real’ answer. Maybe it will put the idea in their head, or maybe it will allow them to be lazy and avoid thinking about their genuine answer. Fair enough, we want to avoid that.
Well, glad to be of service. The answer is… er… don’t know.
The day before the interview, the organisation conducting the research sent me the following email:
Subject: Big Bad Pharmaceuticals Interview Confirmation: Treating the common cold with cake
You are scheduled to take part in a one-on-one interview at 6:00 PM on Tuesday, June 11th at the Ritz Hotel, 150 Piccadilly, London.
Thank you again for your interest in this study and we greatly appreciate your participation.
As I’m used to being on the other end of these things I carefully checked the email for any special instructions before I set off for the interview, but there didn’t seem to be any so I just headed along to the hotel.