Lisbon's take on magic
Jude Rutherford went to the AQR/QRCA conference to broaden her horizons, challenge her thinking and meet leading qual researchers.
The Lisbon forum did not disappoint. I'd dub it the friendly conference. We were treated to some very good papers, whose impact was accentuated by the discussion and camaraderie among the researcher team present.
First, let's get down to the serious stuff. For me, the conference's big theme was the acknowledgement of what we, as qualitative researchers, actually offer our clients. Because it's not process and techniques. For while these are worthy tools that help us, what our clients actually buy is our intuition, our magic, our subjective point of view on what the research outcomes really mean.
We create meaning from what consumers say. As qualitative researchers we have to have confidence in the real contribution that we can make to our clients' businesses. One of the thoughts that stood out for me is that we should do the groups for free and charge for the thinking!!
I also liked the simple ideas that turned traditional wisdom on its head.
- Big diverse groups rather than tight homogenous ones
- Groupies might be more useful in certain circumstances than virgins
- The outcome is more important than the process
The fact that clients attended the conference, too, and served as keynote speakers, added a useful reality check to the event. They were not backward in coming forward about what they actually expect from their researchers and proposed the following checklist for us all.
Put on your list:
- Honesty: Say what you think. Don't hide behind the methodology
- Collaboration: Respect for the client's need to be involved and, in addition, potential contribution
- Involvement and care: Thinking about the client and their business outside the project...We need to be 'insight tarts'
- Astuteness: Understand the workings of your clients' companies, be aware of the 'political' issues and the role of the different stakeholders. Presentations need to be tailored for different internal audiences
Papers that challenge and energise the audience are key for any conference to be successful. At Lisbon we were treated to another conference quality that is I think quite unique: friendship.
The event organisers repeated the 'Dine Arounds', the concept that proved so successful at the last international conference in Paris two years ago. On the conference blurb I must admit that 'Dine Arounds' sounded somewhat scary.
What it meant was that the best dining spots in Lisbon had been identified us for and all we had to do, during the day, was put our names down to visit the restaurants in groups of 10. What a great idea. We got to experience the choicest Lisbon venues and got to know the conference delegates beyond the niceties of 'good morning'. And all without making an effort.
I don't want you to think we Aussies are 'schmoozie' (that's Australian for sycophantic).
There were a couple of things that didn't work for me:
- The organised topics for the lunch tables. They really went a bit far. It's nice, sometimes, just to have a break and chat without any added pressure.
- Some of the workshop topics were too broad. Maybe it was just my group, but we spent most of our time trying to agree on the task!
The delegates came from far and wide some 16 different countries were represented, notwithstanding the economic downturn, the impact of the Iraq war and the SARS outbreak but Mona Al Bahar from the UAE summed up the essence of our time in Lisbon for me. "The conference was great," she said. "It inspired me and gave me the feeling that I want to go back home and start anew in qualitative research."
I would just like to congratulate the conference organisers and thank them for all the hard work that went into making it such a seamless event. I look forward to getting together again in a couple of years.
And a final word: remember to celebrate your magic!
This article was first published in InBrief magazine, July 2003
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2003