Different storkes, different folks
A chance request for a manuscript review revealed that there are still two quite different approaches to qualitative research, but that we lack the terminology to describe them
Back in November, the AQRs Networker Newsgroup saw furious email activity. The reason? Archive supremo Gill Ereaut had asked for input on how widespread was the UK version of research, given she was reviewing a manuscript that assumed all research adheres to the US style model.
Anecdotal information came flooding in, but possibly more interesting is the feeling that these models can no longer be tied to geographical locations and that a new set of terms is needed. Nothing new here. As Gill pointed out, Mary Goodyear once called the US style where clients watch all groups, listen to what respondents actually say, the moderator just moderates, and little analysis occurs cognitive.
The UK/European method where researchers act not just as moderators but also as researchers, and where analysis and interpretation are what the client wants and pays for Mary termed conative style. But these terms never really caught on.
"Globalisation has fostered shared learning," says Gill, "but there are still two quite different approaches. These reflect very different ways of thinking about knowledge and what clients are trying to get out of research.
"We can get into tangles with clients, especially US ones, about what constitutes qualitative research. If they want to watch focus groups and make decisions based on that, they arent being stupid. They are just treating what they see and hear as valid data on which to make decisions.
"Others, buying European research, say they dont want to rely on what people say, but on expert analysis of what they mean. Better terminology would enable us to discuss this better with both colleagues and clients."
Problems also occur when people assume that all groups are run primarily for clients to watch, the US model. A new terminology, Gill argues, would open up awareness of what actually exists. Not just for researchers and clients, but for academics, too, often the ones making such erroneous assumptions.
"A lot of UK researchers have started treating the terms focus group and group discussion as synonymous," she says, "so clearer terminology would allow us to recognise two quite distinct approaches, both inside and outside the business."
The world, it appears, is not only big enough for both approaches to co-exist but for certain researchers to be so well versed in each one that they can switch according to client needs. Theres a market out there for chameleon researchers, it just helps to know what colour youre adopting on a daily basis.
This article was first published in InBrief magazine, January 2003
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2003