Planning for the unimaginable
The recent bombings made people less keen to travel so what, asks Liz Sykes, will be the impact on respondents?
The tragic bombings on the 7th July have had a profound effect on the confidence of people not just in London but throughout the UK. The government is advocating business as usual, but we're not there - yet.
It's induced a sense of vulnerability. The terrorists originated from across the country, and there are no clues as to where and how they'll strike next. The problem has been exacerbated, meanwhile, by saturation media coverage and heightened security alerts. The delicate balance between informing the public yet not giving too much publicity - and therefore encouragement - to the bombers and their cause is a difficult one to strike.
So what is the likely impact upon the qual industry in the long and short term? People still travel to work - though tube trips fell 15% on weekdays and 30% at weekends - but will they be as willing to journey into the centre of towns and cities for less vital activities, such as taking part in qual research?
Quite apart from the underlying fear of travelling, there are the knock-on effects. These range from passenger checks on public transport to greater numbers of security alerts - all of which are likely to delay respondents and may stop them attending at all. They may even drive in, thus upping costs.
If this problem does grow, who will be liable for the disruption to the research timetable? Are researchers and agencies covered by their existing terms and conditions or should they - and clients - take out additional insurance protection?
It is essential that people not only talk upfront about the possible consequences of recent events, but also develop a contingency plan to deal with the prospect of future attacks. If the dates or locations for research have to change, what are the cost and debrief timing implications?
If some respondents show and others don't, do we go ahead or reschedule, entailing yet more expense in terms of travel and incentives? It underlines the need for clients and researchers to be more flexible about research. Although we don't really want respondents baling out, we also need to ensure that we keep their goodwill and don't discourage them from attending research in the longer term. What the industry needs to come up with is a policy for how costs - such as respondent incentives, venue hire, travelling expenses and the project team's time - can be shared fairly.
The research community needs to plan ahead and think more flexibly and creatively about what it is doing so that it's not disappointed, due to disrupted research, nor out of pocket financially.
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2005