The Association for Qualitative Research
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Will Brighton be a ball?

I have to confess to some feelings of nostalgia for the MRS Conference, especially now that it's back in Brighton. But, as a qualitative researcher, I am finding it difficult to get excited about what's on offer for March 2001. Many aspects of the programme say that it's not 'for me' from the not very qualitative sounding 'Black and White Ball' to the small amount of qualitative content in the papers!

For me, the memorable part of previous Conferences has been the social side. I have usually stayed away from the organised social events unless I've had the buffer of a large group of colleagues or a lot of alcohol. In either case, having a good time is a strong possibility. It was always my intention to mingle and make useful contacts during the breaks in the day. I usually failed dismally as a throng of agency people surrounded any client that I managed to spot. I am intrigued to find that there are now designated areas for 'networking and socialising'. Perhaps this is my chance!

And if my best attempts at networking still fail, there is always the AQR Happy Hour on Thursday to fall back on. The Conference should end on a high note with the comic duo Bird and Fortune. I'll be interested to see if their 'tailor made sketch' includes any qualitative references. Now that Tony Blair has brought 'focus groups' to the attention of the nation, we may be lucky and get a mention.

Broken promise

It's hard to tell if the sessions could be appropriate for qualitative researchers. It's only by seeing a company like 2cv mentioned that I'm reassured that there could be something relevant.

Does the MRS realise that many qualitative researchers will have to sit through three papers in a darkened hall in the hope that one may be stimulating or relevant? This doesn't seem like a good return on investment in terms of time and money ­ more like a lottery than a certainty. It is hard to see how the current offering is going to deliver the promise of the Conference, 'Turning Knowledge to Competitive Advantage', to qualitative researchers.

I am feeling increasingly that the MRS Conference cannot address many of the issues that are pertinent to qualitative researchers. It can be stimulating to look at research in a broader perspective ­ what are the bigger trends and business issues that effect research? It can also be useful if case studies are used from markets in which you are working. Beyond this, I am left wondering if the MRS is really committed to delivering what its qualitative members want from it.

Perhaps what I'm looking for is a qualitative day (or even afternoon) with the opportunity to meet up with other qualitative researchers and interested clients. If the MRS Conference can't deliver a more tailored qualitative offering, maybe we do have to look elsewhere or start our own conference. An event like the AQR Trends Day is much better placed to address the issues of qualitative researchers, e.g. learning from other professions that have similar skills, keeping us up to date with stimulating theories from the academic world, providing a forum to discuss thorny issues. Something like this is much more likely to motivate me and reassure me that the odds are in my favour.


Claire Thomas
Research Director, RDSi

This article was first published in InBrief magazine, January 2001
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2001