On a cool Monday evening in June AQR's inaugural "Spark" event certainly lived up to its name, exploding into life and warming up the 40 delegates who made the event an overwhelming success.
The groundbreaking series of AQR "Spark" events have been designed to bridge the gap that exists between traditional training and networking/socialising events (also known in the industry as "AQR partying"). These events are open to researchers, clients, and both members and non-members of AQR alike, the aim being to spread knowledge, experience new things and meet people.
The opening session was labelled as "Effective improvisation — an opportunity to learn how to confidently and appropriately deal with the tricky, uncertain, unexpected situations that we can find ourselves in during our professional and non-professional lives and turn them into something positive".
Once the event officially started, Andrew Risner soon put everyone at ease, explaining that the evening would primarily be about letting go, having fun and challenging our pre-conceived ideas about what is right and wrong. From early in the session it was clear that delegates themselves would be the stars of the show when Andrew asked all the delegates to stand up from the chairs and wander round the "performing area".
A series of warm up exercises followed as delegates meandered around. These ranged from blanking one another, acknowledging each other, casting flirtatious glances and pointing at random objects and calling them by anything other than their real name. This is a surprisingly hard task to do without inadvertently using a linked or related word — try it!
From then on the tone was set, the next hour involved lots of paired exercises, each lasting no longer than a couple of minutes. Within a short space of time a group of strangers were confidently playing word games, improvising short sketches and telling jokes purely in numbers (some of which were the funniest jokes I ever heard).
To some extent the nature of such an event means delegates will all take something slightly different from the session. These events certainly do not sit in the same category as more formal training, where there are a clear set of learning outcomes that trainers wish their delegates to take away with them. The main thing that struck me was how creative people can be when the conditions and atmosphere is right. To my mind that shows how much potential all qualitative research methodologies have, whether they are group discussions or depth interviews.
Serious outcomes aside, I also had a great time and on behalf of all delegates I'd like to give a big thanks to AQR and Andrew Risner for putting on this event and look forward to seeing what other "Sparks" are planned for the future.
This article was first published in InBrief magazine, October 2010
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2010