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Recent Changes in Qualitative Research

By May 15, 2023May 17th, 2023Insights, The Way Forward
qualitative virtual focus group

Changes to how we conduct qualitative research, accelerated by the pandemic, are leading to both greater process efficiencies and improved insight outcomes. Importantly, we are seeing more insights per research dollar and deeper insights.

Using new techniques and technologies, we can often turn around high-quality work faster than would have been reasonable two years ago.

Key research processes that are driving these changes include:

  • Running hybrid projects (in-person, then virtual)
  • Deploying mixed method projects (IDI, Video In-Situ, and Focus Group)
  • Using digital tools to present stimuli or conduct polls

As we are developing our approach with different models, our clients are with us on the journey.

Hybrid the project

In the past, when a client wanted to conduct groups with customers in the East, Central and West regions, we would book facilities in each centre and either travel or use local moderators to facilitate the groups. During COVID we went 100% virtual. Today, we will often book in-person groups in one market and follow with virtual across the other markets.

In-person groups still deliver the tactile, full-body expression that we don’t typically observe over a video platform. And typically, the initial groups uncover more than 50% of the relevant insights (aside from geographic or other homogenous group differences). By holding in-person groups first and then virtual groups the day after, we retain the benefits of physical interaction. Then subsequent online groups are richer because of the deeper learning and discussion guide modifications following the in-person groups.

In addition to the insights-related advantages, the hybrid project also brings efficiencies when it comes to moderating. While a multi-market project could have been completed in an evening or two in the past by employing multiple moderators, here, with the hybrid model, a single moderator can run a national set of hybrid groups in a similar amount of time, with no need for travel outside of primary market.

Mixed method

Focus groups have been a mainstay of qualitative research methods for decades, but sometimes, using them in isolation can leave important insights untapped. For many projects, it’s useful to explore using multiple qualitative data collection methods to elicit different kinds of learnings.

In these cases, we can still invite participants to focus groups or IDIs, but also invite either the same or new participants to visit a store, test out a product, watch a show live with a researcher, conduct a video ethnography, etc. And we can do this synchronously or asynchronously, using our own tools or those provided by Recollective, iTracks, or others.

So what? We can get a broader span of insights mixing methodologies – without significant cost differences. In other words, while simplicity in design is certainly a virtue, and focus groups will typically deliver, if we can run groups as well as a set of in-home product tests for the same research budget, the return is better.

Digital tools

Card sorts, image completion, top-of-mind associations, and other projective techniques can all be completed live during qualitative sessions, but with digital tools, analysis is faster and cleaner. Using digital tools to collect responses either pre-interview or during the interview allows moderators to easily collect and review responses in an organized way, such that they can use them to shape their next probes.

Polling and digital tools for projective techniques can be used during virtual groups to get individual feedback, and the same can be done in person. Participants can answer prompts in real time using their personal devices (e.g., smartphones, tablets), with the results going to the moderator’s device.

In summary, hybrid research with in-person and virtual groups offers researchers the best of both worlds, mixed methods provide broader insight collection opportunities with little budget impact, and digital tools help the moderator probe more effectively. These tools and process changes represent some of the many advances made in conducting qualitative research in 2023. Using these, we provide better return on our clients’ research investment.