Why the web is essential
Getting a life isn't easy when you are a qualitative researcher. All those anti-social hours, the travelling. It is hard to balance doing effective and professional research with having a full and rich life outside of work.
Computer and communications technologies have been useful allies in minimising time spent on many of the mundane tasks in qualitative research. No longer does the topic guide have to be written four days in advance and posted to the client. Instantaneous communication allows more creative use of time and reduces stress.
The Web is proving its worth as a convenient research information resource. It offers background information for writing proposals and looking impressively clued up at briefings. Chat rooms and forums often give a good picture of what customers are disgruntled about. Travel arrangements can be tailored precisely and conveniently.
Visual references and diagrams for stimulus material and reports, explanations of psychological theories and models: they take some finding, but they're all there. Being a researcher or a consultant carries the expectation that we are supposed to be in touch with everything that is happening. Although the Internet is driving much of the change at the moment, it also offers the opportunity to manage it, a chance that researchers cannot afford to miss.
Reading the predictions of e-pundits makes our current use of the Internet look positively primeval. Cable, phone, satellite and wireless technology is being rapidly upgraded to beam large volumes of information instantly into our homes and offices. Simultaneously, increasing numbers of appliances will be Web-enabled. We are going to have downloadable everything, accessible from anywhere. Part of our collective consciousness will become electronic.
I see the values of the Internet as about connectivity and sharing, but some sites (like the MRS's) seem like barriers rather than gateways. They proudly describe everything the organisation does, and graciously allow you to e-mail them to find out more. But it is hard to have a relationship with an online brochure. In contrast, the Advertising Research Foundation site feels most welcoming, immediately offering up top ten insights from some recent workshops. The AQRP site also offers some advice and opinions.
However, there is so much more potential. Searchable databases, such as those offered by MR Web, bring some of the inter-activity researchers need. There is a wealth of information already published, which is not being shared because getting access to it is so time-consuming. More links can be made, not only to other marketing and research sites, but also to travel and hotel information.
In time to come we may well have respondent recruitment via the Web, recruiter databases, and Web cam communication. Whatever happens, it is clear that the Internet is set to keep on changing the way we work. But in our exhilaration with the technology, we need to remember to keep developing the spirit of community and openness that comes through shared problems and values.
This article was first published in InBrief magazine, May 2000
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2000