A new breed of respondent
The recession is having an impact on many areas of our professional lives, but for qualitative researchers there is a positive outcome in the form of new and more engaged respondents. This is opening up a range of new research possibilities.
One observation is the increased number of "fresh" respondents. Whether this is an outcome of the media publicity promoting research as a way to "make extra money in these tough times", or whether it is a result of recruiters trying harder to deliver more value because of the threat of less work, the cause is arguably less important than the outcome.
Additionally, respondent behaviour when attending groups has also noticeably changed, representing an interesting dynamic for both moderators and clients alike. It is clear to see the increased vigour and interest from respondents and the social connection that seems to be of greater importance in today's environment. This is making the group approach an even more exciting and valuable methodology.
This reaction among respondents is particularly apparent in financial and business research. The mixed messages presented in the media are causing many consumers to feel lost and confused. Reports and advice change on a daily basis and therefore, when approached, consumers can be more open to attending groups. Some perhaps hope they may find answers which are otherwise eluding them; others conceivably look for reassurance that their peers are encountering similar experiences and emotions.
Furthermore, it is evident that discussions are stretching well beyond the assigned timeslot and the swapping of business cards between respondents or arranging drinks among themselves to continue sharing thoughts and ideas are becoming more common.
Respondents and clients are more open to new ideas than ever, so what does this mean for our research practices? In today's rapidly changing market, where clients are recognising the value of greater connectivity, extending and refining the contact we have with respondents is of utmost importance.
At a time when budgets are constrained, customer closeness sessions, where clients are directly exposed to customers without the safety net of a one-way mirror, are challenging the face of traditional qualitative groups. They're also increasingly being demanded by clients looking to obtain greater cross value from their research.
Moreover, new user-friendly and cost effective online facilities offering social networking tools such as online blogs, discussion forums and personal diaries are offering researchers and clients revolutionised methods of extending and maintaining the relationship with respondents.
Businesses may be facing difficult challenges, but there are numerous opportunities to be had, even in the current climate. By utilising both the increased motivation of research participants and new techniques for engaging with respondents, qualitative researchers can truly provide the value added service that their clients demand.
Research Director, Discovery
This article was first published in InBrief magazine, July 2009
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2009