What do academics in the world of market research get up to? What have they got in common with researchers in commercial agencies, and what divides us? Is there anything we can learn from each other, or are we really in parallel universes, destined never to meet?

These are some of the questions which the Qualitative Bridges Group, an informal group of academic and commercial researchers, have been mulling over for some time. So we jumped at the opportunity to run a workshop looking at these issues at the 2007 Academy of Marketing Conference, hosted by Kingston Business School. Jim Blythe from the University of Glamorgan invited me and Sheila Keegan to meet the qualitative Special Interest Group and sound them out.

Our first surprise was how much interest there seemed to be in the subject. Jim had suggested we might have around ten people, but around 30 attended and all seemed very interested to find out about the world of commercial research. Sheila and I told them a bit about AQR and the Qualitative Bridges group, and gave them a few examples of projects we had worked on. There was a lot of interest in the practicalities of commercial research - how we recruit participants, what timescales we work to, and how we manage projects.

Academics also identified many areas where their work could benefit from closer involvement with commercial researchers. These included access to up-to-date information and new data; placements for themselves and their students within agencies; opportunities to find out about new approaches and techniques; and having commercial researchers give guest lectures on their courses. Not surprisingly, they also hoped to gain access to new sources of funding for their work!

We also thought that academic researchers might make a real contribution to commercial qualitative research. This could include conducting literature reviews at the beginning of projects; sharing expertise on markets which they have spent many years studying; and helping with the theoretical analysis and frameworks which we apply to our findings.

Of course there may be barriers to effective collaboration, ranging from the different timescales of commercial and academic researchers, to client confidentiality and data protection issues. But if partnerships are established in the initial stages of a project and expectations are clearly laid out, we felt these obstacles were not insurmountable.

So what now? There was a lot of interest in a conference or seminar to get the ball rolling, possibly with joint presentations from academics and commercial researchers to showcase the benefits of collaboration. Maintaining a database of academics with particular expertise was also suggested, so that commercial agencies requiring specific skills could locate academic partners. We'll be taking these ideas forwards in the next meeting of the Qualitative Bridges in September, so watch this space. If you want to take part in this initiative or want to find out more, contact Rose Molloy, who will forward on any queries.