These are interesting times for AQR and, indeed, for qualitative research. There is still a "heartland" to the thinking and processes involved which differentiates it from other approaches to enquiry, but the edges have become much more permeable.
"Focus groups" may still serve as a shorthand to describe it at a cocktail party but they are less the iconic feature of qualitative practice than they once were.
How, for example, would you describe to an industry newcomer an online forum which collects both numerical and "soft" data, and which is accessed and "analysed" by both supplying research consultant and client?
Or how about a facilitated all-day workshop in which there is an Action Research remit to both inform, build and develop changes within an organisation? Not to mention an edited chunk of ethnographic video film?
A growing remit
Qualitative research is, in a "glass half full" manner of thinking, growing in executional remit. It's building exciting and stimulating links with, and across, other disciplines from brand consultancy to academia via — importantly — those practices previously known as "quantitative" research.
Indeed, if technology and the internet have done anything in the world of research, they have, undeniably, brought the "family" closer. The qual/quant divide is starting to look and sound decidedly archaic — as indeed, on occasions, is the description "research".
The "half empty" view really only differs in the way some quallies feel the ground shifting — the speed and "process-orientation" of many client requests and expectations nowadays making us long for the days we had time for significant and appreciable psychological analysis of our material.
Exploring AQR's essence
Well, at AQR, the fight to protect thinking and analysis is alive and well, taking the form of an intense strategy review session. We're exploring what is, should be, and could be the essence of the Association's brand and how this might all translate into "tangibles": products, visual identity, events and courses, etc.
One thing we are very sure about is that we — as ever — want to maximise involvement and interactivity with members. In any and all ways we — and you — can think of. We dream of an organisation which has "qualitative thinking" at its heart but also an ever-widening understanding of how that plays out in practice.
So, for AQR in the coming year, we are looking for:
- Inspiration: hopefully delivered on or before the eagerly-awaited Inspiration in Action Global conference next May.
- Open-mindedness and diversity: perhaps we can build membership and activity strands among academic sociologists, ad planners, political economists and other creative industries?
- Dynamism: we need to be part of whatever and wherever qualitative research, and its related activities, are heading. We must keep stretching ourselves as an organisation to be out there with the zeitgeist, resisting any urges to moan about the "good old days".
Reasons to be cheerful?
Despite the downturn it's been another great year for AQR, albeit with slightly diminished coffers, since the last Directory was published. Reasons to be cheerful? The support of our vibrant membership; those who've gone that extra mile helping with courses, events and publications and last, but by no means least, the AQR Committee.
This year's Directory is more than holding its own in these straitened times, and is one of the best value and most sought after in the market research industry. As for AQR itself, we hope that our courses and events will continue to appeal to existing members, attract new ones and maintain one of our best-known qualities: fun.
Roll on next year.
This article was first published in InBrief magazine, March 2010
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2010