The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Thinking

Managing International Projects the right way

International research is big business. By 1995 it accounted for a 277m spend in Europe, 34% up on the previous year, while domestic research saw only an 8% rise in the same period. Extracting figures for international qualitative work is less easy but a fair guess, using ESOMAR and IPSOS estimates for the market as a whole, is that at least 5m of it is commissioned from the UK.

Given these sort of sums, it is vital to get the most out of international research and the best way to do it is to maintain quality standards by taking extra care in planning and project management. Failure to plan can generate serious problems and undermine the validity and comparability of the project.

Since checklists can be a helpful aid to planning, here are ten basic rules and considerations for those commissioning or co-ordinating multi-country projects.

Be VERY specific in your brief to international research agencies when seeking quotes for local work regarding such things as:

  • sample composition

  • duration of group or interview

  • the nature of the report you expect (a full report with interpretation and verbatim quotes in two languages, plus a personal presentation for each country in English or, at the other extreme, a pile of transcripts in the local language)

Establish exactly what and who you are buying. Who will moderate the groups and what relevant experience do they have? What is their native language and does it matter to you if this is not the language of the group? Who will analyse the data, translate, write reports, etc.? If the company is new to you, check their credentials and some references before you commit.

Additionally, be very honest with your clients about who is going to observe the groups from the UK or, indeed, whether you are conducting the groups yourself. The client has a right to know how much you are personally managing and watching the project (though clearly the best methodology will vary from project to project).

Be very clear about what is included in the price and what is not, e.g. viewing facilities (the norm outside the UK), videotaping, translation of documents, simultaneous translation of groups for observers, provision of transcripts and costs of catering.

Pay attention to translation and it's pitfalls. Important nuances can easily be lost in translation. This applies for all aspects of the job including your brief to the supplier (whose English may not be as perfect as you assume). Good translation takes time. Concept boards should be translated and then translated back to ensure the meaning, while materials may need to be couriered or mailed to and from partners, adding days into the schedule.

Recruitment methods may vary between countries. This is not necessarily a bad thing but be aware of it. For example, if database recruitment is used you may find yourself with a more research literate sample. However the sample is recruited, put your requirements down on paper.

Observing is a common occurrence in many countries and you may well have a client who wants to come to the groups. While it sounds obvious, a manageable itinerary is a useful aim for everyone.

Develop a very clear framework for any analysis. Not only does this make analysis very much easier but, by its very existence, it enables the local moderator to understand what it is you are trying to achieve and it focuses their minds on your task even more bluntly than the discussion guide. Analysis from some countries, such as East Europe, analysis needs very close involvement with the commissioning agency, or you may prefer to get transcripts and do the analysis yourself.

The main political pitfall usually revolves around the involvement of the local client or the local brand of the ad agency who may well feel excluded from the research and attempt to tinker. Ensure the ground rules are clear up front.

Finally, remember that everything inevitably takes longer than you expect, especially when you are dealing with less marketing 'sophisticated' clients. Leave plenty of time.

 

Anne Ward
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 1999