Foreword (InDepth Issue 15)
From the universe of academia to the world of advertising, behavioural economics is rapidly becoming the darling of modern thinking. Research has taken note, and these days it is rare to see a conference or seminar not including a paper on the subject.
Now is the turn of In Depth: two articles written by three highly established and respected practitioners of qualitative research, Sarah and Crawford's outlining the principles, Wendy's being one of the first I've seen starting to tell us "how to" (well overdue!)
Behavioural economics and qualitative research
So, why is behavioural economics making such a noise in our space? Well, essentially it's telling us that a lot of what we've been doing in the past is wrong. At least on the surface. It's saying we can't expect consumers to be reliable witnesses of their own behaviour and purchase decision making. Asking "why" is wrong. This makes an awful lot of sense. All of us can see that the reasons we give for making a purchase choice might be very different from the actual reasons.
But, haven't we always been aware of this as qualitative researchers? And aren't we proud of ourselves for making the distinction between reportage and interpretation? With this in mind, maybe behavioural economics is little more than giving us a new framework to drive our approach and analysis?
Perhaps qualitative research, as we know it, is dead? Or is behavioural economics just another tool, limiting itself to one element of our qualitative remit and understanding?
Lots of questions to be answered but not, apparently, the question "Why?"
What's it all about. Alfie?
Cilla Black used to sing "What's it all about, Alfie?" back in the 60s. In Behavioural Economics terms, the co-founders of The Behavioural Architects — Sarah Davies and Crawford Hollingworth — have it pegged. In this, one of our most ambitious and all-encompassing issues to date, the pair set the subject in context. They look at BE in terms of where it sits in the qualitative research industry, vis a vis client demands and from a behavioural sciences perspective. And if this is insufficient to whet the appetite, they also provide a full-page table giving a quick overview of some key BE constructs. So if lack of knowledge on this topic has held you back from experimenting, we're afraid that excuse has just gone out the window.
This article was first published in InDepth magazine, September 2011
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2011