Back in early June when an email dropped into my inbox from the AQR inviting our participation in Vision Day to shape the Future of Qualitative Research I, like many others, was keen to get involved.

My enthusiasm to attend the day was motivated by a belief that qualitative research needs to increase its professionalism. Things that used to niggle me are becoming an increasing concern.

Growing awareness

It is true public awareness of qualitative research has increased, although arguably this is partly thanks to the Labour Party and its proliferation of focus groups — often as a justification for policy. There is, however, still a way to go. Training isn’t mandatory and when it is offered, standards can vary considerably. Anyone can call themselves a qualitative researcher and I have noticed that increasingly they do!

While views towards the Unilever accreditation scheme are mixed, it has demonstrated a need to improve the professionalism of the industry across the board. I don’t think I am alone in feeling a little embarrassed that this process has, up until now, been initiated and shaped by a client and not internally by the industry itself.

Don’t get me wrong, over the years we have come a long way and have a lot to be proud of, but for me Vision Day was an opportunity to get together with other qualitative researchers and share our thoughts about how we saw the future and what we wanted it to look like.

On the day

So let’s talk about the day itself. The Vision Day was a workshop held on 7 July at the London Art House in Islington. It was a warm day and the Tour de France was making its way into and through London. There was positive optimism in the air.

The day kicked off with an introduction from Wendy Gordon and Roy Langmaid, two of the most respected professionals in the industry.

In the audience were 50 qualitative professionals, including four members of the Steering Group who organised the day (Michael Herbert, Blue Martin, Peter Totman and Andy Bloor). From several shows of hands it was evident the group reflected a perfectly balanced representation of our industry. These comprised different types and sizes of companies, from large to small agencies and independents that encapsulated a breadth of experience ranging from a few months to several decades. I was particularly inspired by the younger team members and their commitment to shaping their long-term career as qualitative researchers.

This felt like the ‘hottest ticket in town’ and the enthusiasm for the day was evident not only from its full attendance (there was a waiting list), but also its support from many sponsors.

Looking around there was a feeling of excitement and anticipation about the day ahead — arguably this is one of the biggest changes the industry has experienced in decades and it felt like we had a lot to achieve before 5pm!

Mapping out the day

The day was mapped out by the facilitators into a series of interactive group sessions of varying sizes. The start point was a series of quick-firing warm-up exercises designed to help us get to know each other, relax us and increase our creativity.

The sessions that followed enabled us to develop and evolve our individual and group thoughts about the industry and create a collective vision for the future.

Professionalisation was the recurring theme and a need for industry standards, delivered by some form of formal training. Inevitably further dialogue is needed to identify not only what form this will take, but also how it is funded and which organisation will back it. Should this be the agenda only for qualitative research or should it be in partnership with quantitative research?

The day was rounded off by Blue Martin sharing her presentation from Marketing Week Live. It provided an engaging summary of the journey and where the committee aims to be. The consistency between her presentation and the collective outcomes of all those involved in the Vision Day was truly enlightening and demonstrated what appears to be a continuity of thinking across the qualitative research industry.

Next steps

So what are the next steps? Shaping the future of our industry is a collaborative process and it is important that we all get involved and share our ideas and opinions.

Online consultation

On the back of Vision Day an online consultation ran from mid-July to 8 September, open to everyone involved with qualitative research. It represented an opportunity to share views and for those of you who were not able to attend the day see filmed footage in the form of short film clips.

1: Go to

2: Set up a new account with your email and password.
(NB. If you’ve previously worked with our partners at Crowdlab, you won’t be able to access this project as a participant using your work email. So, we suggest you create a new account with a personal email address.)

3: Use project code VISION, and you’ll be away!

The AQR Steering Committee has also set up a group on LinkedIn. It is worth noting the name has changed from the ‘Qualitative Accreditation and Professionalisation Group’ to ‘Qualitative Professionalisation Group’. One of the key outputs of the day was those involved in qualitative research are more comfortable with professionalisation than they are with accreditation. This is in part due to accreditation being strongly associated with the Unilever scheme and partly due to a fresher optimism delivered by professionalisation.

Mood of optimism

An immense amount of work went into making this day a very inspiring one and I would like to offer my congratulations to everyone involved. This workshop is only the beginning of the process in defining that vision of qualitative market research. We have a long way to go, but I am feeling very optimistic and positive.