The Association for Qualitative Research
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Dangers of the Bedford Triangle

How would the questions about qual research issues and practices of twenty years ago have differed from the way we see them today?

Let’s speculate. Take an aspiring new quallie, booked on the 2007 AQR Foundation Course to get a solid overview of qual research and develop his or her skills. Driving there through the Bedfordshire Triangle, a mysterious time inversion occurs and they find themselves arriving at the AQR Foundation Course in 1988. But how will they cope?

Our new quallie (in period costume) fits in easily with the other delegates in 1988, who are keen to network and have a natural curiosity about people. Later in the bar there’s a lot of drinking, bemoaning the England team, and comparing of Walkmans, which are getting ever smaller since they were launched nearly 10 years ago.

The delegates relish the research gurus who are presenting, but occasionally get OHP overload when the acetates are too wordy. One presenter has acetates formatted using a new program called PowerPoint, but it makes her computer crash.

The presentations about sample design and interviewing skills are followed by syndicate work, including a videotaped moderating session on the second day. Everyone is initially taken aback that the practice case study is about condoms, but it becomes clear people must learn to see condoms as a cool sexual accessory.

Our quallie is relieved that all the others have the same issues and questions about research — dealing with client politics, misrecruitment, difficult respondents, and how to understand the deeper psychology of consumers? They all practice personification, using collages and various ways of getting consumers to talk about brands.

Having read a second-hand copy of Gordon and Langmaid’s A Practitioner and Buyers Guide back in 2007, our time traveller realises that much of the course sounds familiar. Consumer sophistication is not taken for granted, though, and apparently brand image sometimes has to be explained.

Other differences, too, start to emerge. There is very little mention of social research or awareness of cultural issues. The other delegates have mostly got first degrees, but haven’t worked in as many places or appear as well-travelled as a 2007 cohort.

The time travel process reverses, and our quallie is back in 2007, the course completed and clutching a set of handouts. Back at work, the researcher is handed much responsibility for ensuing projects as a result of improved confidence. Meanwhile our quallie makes two mental notes — to find out more about how the internet can be used for qualitative research — and to be very careful when driving around Bedfordshire.


Joanna Chrzanowska
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2008