The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Thinking

Moving under MRS umbrella

Qualitative research has really come of age. Look at the increasingly sophisticated and diverse tools we use to get closer to consumers, and the range of disciplines from which we have unashamedly borrowed. 'Bricolage' is no longer a leading edge technique reserved for the favoured few, but part of our everyday bag of tricks.

The qualitative industry is showing growth at a faster rate than the sector overall, and our skills are clearly in demand. It is incumbent, therefore, on AQR to ensure that the future of our industry is secure, enabling it to grow in stature within the larger market research environment. As market research becomes increasingly fragmented, with mixed methodologies and specialist interest groups, it is important that the qualitative industry should stand as an important and specialised part of that broader picture.

This is why closer links between AQR and MRS are so important. The MRS already has accredited status, but if it were also to act as an umbrella for the different disciplines we would all benefit. It's already clear how a unified voice can achieve a more effective representation of what we do in the world at large ­ an area where members (in our recent survey) wanted more action from AQR. Given that we also feel irritation at the way our profession is maligned in the wider media ('sitting around chatting to people, anyone can do that'), and would welcome an opportunity to gainsay some of our detractors, particularly those on Radio 4, closer links might provide that.

Members noted another area of concern, too ­ professional qualifications. They praised the range of courses AQR has on offer, but recognise that there is currently no way of measuring or recognising when a junior has mastered all the theoretical and practical skills that make a fully-fledged researcher.

The other side of the coin is that the MRS diploma has a qualitative module ­ but this is geared towards quantitative researchers who need to know something about qualitative research, rather than a module targeted at qualitative specialists.

Paper qualifications do not necessarily represent a guarantee of quality, but they could be an important step in gaining professional kudos and status for our industry (my mother, for instance, still thinks I stand with a clipboard outside Tesco!).

Qualifications are no substitute for inspiration and insight, key attributes of a good qualitative researcher. There are, however, many 'best practice' issues on a range of topics from recruitment to data protection, plus a range of skills and techniques that must be practised.Many qualitative researchers work for either 'boutique' style agencies or as freelancers ­ while two thirds of companies do not recruit graduates ­ so how can we be sure, with increasing fragmentation, that the craft skills are being passed on to the next generation?

We believe that, under the umbrella of the MRS, we can have greatest influence on accredited training and qualifications, while ensuring that qualitative research is appropriately represented in the world at large.

Yes, we could go it alone, but this would mean wasting valuable time and effort duplicating what the MRS has already achieved ­ i.e. the ear of government, accreditation, professional standards, etc. ­ rather than channelling our energies into innovation, thinking and exchange of ideas.

Links with the MRS do not mean any constitutional changes for AQR, or changes in the range of good value courses on offer, in ethos or core values. Neither is there any change in the Association's long-standing aim: to be the voice of qualitative research, and to represent our members' best interests at every level of industry.

The only difference is a feeling that, on some issues at least, coming under the umbrella of an organisation such as the MRS, representing the broader market research community, will enhance our ability to serve our members' best interests.

 

Fiona Jack
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2002