The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Thinking

Why we can, and must, ask why

Why are you reading? And, tell me, why must we ask why? The latter question, says Alison Winship MacKay, was the crux of Roy Langmaid's recent webinar.

We may intuitively know that by asking the question why we are attempting to discover glistening gems of insight, but we rarely question its fundamental importance. In Roy’s words ‘why is the question we ask when we wan to understand’. So, if we don’t ask why, are we merely observing and gaining nothing more than a superficial read on actions and behaviours?

Power of why

Roy convincingly demonstrates that why gives research a level of depth and power: power to understand what lies beneath a response, be it spoken or an action. He notes it proffers explanations for clients and, in Roy’s words, allows us to interpret ‘why things matter’; ‘why takes you to the source’.

Purposeful practice

Roy shares a sound set of reasons for asking why why can sometimes prove problematic: sometimes people don’t know, or find it difficult to express the reasons why, or they simply don’t wish to share. (We must also be mindful of cultural context, as some cultures are more open than others to share!) Roy highlights how we can best work around these with his simple guide: watch more reality TV! A brilliantly topical analogy: his observation is that through ‘purposeful practice’, people get better at things very quickly. So if we practice asking the question why up front we will become more relaxed and better armed to respond in a more eloquent manner.

Put people first

Roy’s webinar flowed seamlessly through the challenges that we face in the world of qualitative research. He referred to the client-driven topic guide as something functional, impersonal, which appears to lack human understanding (my interpretation), where the respondent tirelessly responds to question after question, eventually leading to automatic and superficial rhetoric. As a client, I’d say ‘guilty as charged’, but I’m willing to change!

Ultimately, Roy’s advice is ‘put people before products’ and work hard up front to ‘foster a relationship’ with them! Think about how to get the best out of the conversation you are having!

Self awareness

And finally, how often do we practice this fine art of questioning the why of our own inner motives? And do we allow enough time for the answer to emerge when pondering or, more pertinently, in our groups and interviews? Roy had me thinking aloud, questioning my own ‘self awareness’ as I listened intently!

Conclusion

Roy’s willingness to talk from the heart, in a way that certainly comes across as unfiltered, is refreshing and energising. If you’ve not viewed his webinar then I must ask why and urge you to take 18 minutes out of your busy schedule to do so.

 

Alison Winship MacKay
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2014