The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Thinking

An accidental career

As AQR runs this year's "Five Fridays Foundation Course", we hear from Paul Stamper, who reviewed his experience in the pilot issue of In Brief, 16 years ago.

How many people have an intriguing, creative and fulfilling career "by accident"? That would certainly be one way of viewing the start of my more than 20 years in the market research industry.

When the first edition of In Brief was published I had just been on AQR's foundation course. I'd navigated my way from hourly-paid telephone interviewer to quantitative research executive and then been introduced to the mysteries of depth interviews and group discussions. The foundation course was a fantastic grounding in my new-found profession. There are things I learnt about how qualies approach the conduct and analysis of research that still inform how I do my job today.

During In Brief's existence I've seen significant changes in our industry, with research moving ever more into the mainstream of business culture. Global household names are using insight as a key part of their innovation processes and the biggest research players, with some of whom I've made my career, have become truly global in scale.

At the same time, I've seen our tool kit become much richer thanks to the power and access that digital media bring. Innovations in areas such as biometrics and neuroscience are increasing our understanding of how the subconscious works. Such approaches have also helped to widen the recognition that no single qual approach can provide a full picture of human decision-making, behaviour and motivations.

The last few years have not been the easiest in any section of commerce but it seems to me that qualitative research has held its own as well as any marketing discipline. One gets the sense that marketers recognise the power of carefully observed and analysed insights to drive effective decision making, whatever their sector.

Good qualitative research is, I believe, as respected and valued now as it has been at any time in the past two decades. With disciplines like ethnography offering subspecialisms within qual there are still new avenues to be explored as we keep trying to better understand people.

Looking forward, I suspect fewer of those becoming qualies in the future will set out on the path with as little sense of what it involves as I had — but then they may not have to learn quite as quickly either. Graduates of the highest calibre, with degrees in business or marketing, are seeking out jobs in the profession I had to discover. And long may it continue.

There are still challenges, particularly as global brand owners focus ever more on the world's new power economies. In response, the research sector in these markets is growing at unprecedented rates and we need to ensure that traditional standards of quality and professionalism are maintained. Our industry may be continually changing but qual is still very much a home for the creative, articulate, imaginative and inquiring — just keep reading In Brief if you need convincing.


Paul Stamper
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2013